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Mars Area may dispute state guidelines for teacher training

ADAMS TWP — Mars Area School District may pursue litigation against Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines for teacher training.

“Basically, there’re nine competencies that we’re supposed to be training on,” superintendent Mark Gross said during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. “Some thought that training oversteps to the point of possibility violating constitutionality.”

The Culturally-Relevant and Sustaining Education, or CR-SE, Program Framework Guidelines require that nine competencies related to cultural perspective and bias be integrated into new and existing teacher training, according to the state’s Department of Education website.

“We were made aware that there is possible litigation being scheduled for schools to contest these mandates based on constitutionality issues,” Gross said. “In April, on the agenda, we’re going to be asking the board to deliberate whether you feel that these competencies are things that you feel the district is comfortable moving forward with or whether the district would like to potentially join litigation to contest this.”

Gross said one of the primary concerns with the guidelines is that it is teaching educators “what to believe.”

“It’s extremely problematic all around,” board member Nicole Thurner said. “There’s really no way to, kind of, measure it and measure the way that children in our schools excel or progress with anything that they’re putting forth.”

Board member Megan Lenz said the program was likely to put teachers at risk and encouraged the board and families to learn more about it.

“I personally feel that this is putting teachers specifically in extreme liability based on the very broad use of statements and words that could be used against them,” Lenz said. “I recommend that all teachers and parents look this up, read it, email us and let us know if you’re having concerns over this as well.”

The CR-SE Program Framework guidelines will be discussed at the April 4 board meeting, where the board will determine whether to pursue the litigation or accept them, according to Gross.

Enrollment and capacity study

The board also approved a special meeting for March 29 for a presentation on an enrollment and capacity study.

“There’s been a lot of work put in to take a look at the current enrollment projections and the capacity of our buildings,” Gross said. “I think you’ll see that there’s going to be recommendations that are made that will be significant.”

The presentation will be open to the public in the Mars Area High School LGI Room from 6 to 8 p.m. Gross said security for the meeting would be similar to after-school sporting events.

The school district’s enrollment as of March 1 was 3,516, according to Gross, but the primary concern for the district is the growth of its Mars Area Primary Center and Mars Area Elementary school programs.

“Our elementary numbers are extremely high,” Gross said. “They’re almost the same as our high school.”

Gross said the study was conducted by Jon Thomas, of Thomas and Williamson Program Management, in late summer of 2022. Thomas will present the findings at the meeting and offer recommendations, Gross said.

“Please tune in,” he said. “It’s going to be offered on Zoom; it’s going to be offered live.”

He emphasized that the special meeting would not be the end of the discussion and that there will be future meetings as the school determines how best to handle the growth.

“We’re growing,” Gross said, “and we’re running out of room fast.”

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