West York school board member backs off threat over anthem protests

Sandra Turcotte was not pleased with the West York Area school board's recent discussion about possibly punishing students who "take a knee" during the national anthem.

Specifically, the district parent said during the public comment period at the board's meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 17, she took issue with board Vice President Todd Gettys' apparent threat to target school funding if protesting students don't face consequences.

More:UPDATED: 'No consequences' for West York students 'taking a knee'

October132017 - The West York Bulldogs play the York Suburban Trojans during their homecoming game.

During the board's initial discussion Tuesday, Oct. 10, Gettys said, “I will tell you this: If they (the students) are left unchecked, I am then resorted to use my influence in other directions and that means I start un-funding things I don’t like."

More:UPDATED: 'No consequences' for West York students 'taking a knee'

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There had been some disagreement between school board members during that earlier meeting over whether students should be penalized for participating in "take a knee" protests like those happening at professional sporting events around the country.

The actions of a few might reflect negatively on the school district, Gettys said last week, and if donors that fund school extracurricular activities are "offended," it affects everyone.

Turcotte disagreed at the Tuesday, Oct. 17, meeting.

"When we as a school district begin to put donors' interests or perceptions ahead of what may or may not be in the best interest of our students, then they begin to move from donor status to lobbyist, and that is potentially detrimental to all of us," she said.

Gettys responded by saying there would be no arbitrary cutting of school programs.

West York board members debated possible changes to the student code of conduct after some student athletes considered kneeling during the national anthem before a high school football game.

"The community has been really supportive of our events," he said, and since the district does not exclusively fund most of its extracurricular activities, a loss of outside donors could affect the allocation of school funds.

Gettys continued by saying the district has multiple needs and limited resources, and he wouldn't want to take away support from facility improvements or programs such as the robotics club, which Turcotte also mentioned needed funding.

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Turcotte said she also was worried about potential lawsuits that could arise if students are punished for exercising their rights.

Board member and York County attorney George Margetas said the board is on the same page as Turcotte: They don't want the district to be sued.

Acting Superintendent Patricia Sanker confirmed to The York Dispatch on Thursday, Oct. 12, that "there will be no consequence for taking a knee," in accordance with legal advice from board solicitor Jeffrey Litts.

Litts had said the school could face civil rights lawsuits if the district attempts to punish students for exercising their constitutional rights.

The discussion started after Gettys referenced a Friday night last month during which “some students ... contemplated some actions and expressions of their rights” at a game.

The board has not heard of any more plans from students to protest at games. Margetas said the game for which students considered protesting included a show of unity between school groups instead.

The West York Boys Club stood together with the high school and middle school in solidarity — something that doesn't happen too often, he said — and he believes unity is the most important.