Column: Bullying issues in PENNCREST resurface at board meeting

By Zorian Edwards, Multimedia & Features Editor and Arion Knott, Managing Editor 

After the rumor of Cambridge Springs’ schools closing filled the Cambridge Springs High school auditorium on Feb. 13 at the PENNCREST work session, some residents returned seeking more information at the Feb. 16 PENNCREST School Board meeting. However, by the end of the meeting, a separate issue became the focus. 

During the section for registered speakers on non-agenda items, bullying issues were brought to light. “I’m a former student at Maplewood High School, I’m currently a sophomore in a cyber charter academy, and I’m a current resident in PENNCREST. I have suffered from PENNCREST not taking disciplinary actions on bullying issues,” Townville resident Reghan Whitehair said. “I was bullied for about a year and a half because of my sexuality. I am just horrified of it happening to other students, and I’m really scared that it won’t be taken seriously until it’s completely too late for it to be stopped.” 

Townville resident, Reghan Whitehair addressing the school board.

Since her comments on Feb. 16, newly appointed board member Michael Chausse and three other community members have reached out to Whitehair to ask about her experience. She has had online support as well; however, no one has reached out to her in any official way on the district’s behalf.

It is no secret that there are bullying issues in PENNCREST when it comes to LGBTQIA+ students and students in general. The Saegertown Pride Alliance (SPA) created an internal complaint form for its members during the 2020-21 school year. Since then, 64 total complaints have been submitted that document the harassment and bullying of LGBTQIA+ students. These complaints have been addressed by the administration. Although only two complaints have been logged in 2023, proving there has been progress made about these issues, we are seeing an increase in bullying from board and community members, similar to the events in May 2021. 

“I am going to talk about a legal issue that happened outside of last month’s meeting. January 12 at 9:54 p.m. I was mocked by a school board member… I will not say their name, as I follow the rules,” junior Arion Knott said. “We tried to walk away multiple times, and they would not leave us alone…There’s more to the story, but those are the details I want everyone in this room to know.”

In board member remarks at the end of the meeting, Theresa Croll addressed the board’s recent behavior. “We continue to set a poor example to the community, to our constituents, to our students and it’s just outrageous,” Croll said. “The outrageous allegations, the outrageous comments, and outrageous behaviors. When one decides to serve in a public capacity it needs to be through the lens of compassionate leadership. Servant leadership.”

The newest board member, Michael Chausse (who was appointed at the Feb. 13 meeting) was empathetic about these issues and claimed to want to do more about it. “If you want or need to talk to me please do so,” Chausse said after the meeting. “I want to make PENNCREST a better place for our students to be themselves.”

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