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Lancaster school official warns audience about ‘hate speech’ at board meetings

The Lancaster School Board’s meeting was absent nasty behavior Monday night, unlike its last meeting.

Earlier this month, some pro-Redskins mascot supporters turned their backs on the board when it formally changed the new mascot to Legends. And one angry man had yelled “Heil, Hitler!” to the board president, who is Jewish.

On Monday, Board Vice President Patrick Uhteg delivered a strong warning at the start of the meeting addressing the Hitler comment and warning the public that such behavior would not be tolerated in the future.

The board sought advice from the district’s lawyers following the June 8 meeting, during which some angry Redskins supporters kept their backs turned on the eighth-grade student who designed the winning new mascot and was honored earlier in the meeting with her family.

“With reasonable certainty, we know who the individual is who made this comment,” Uhteg said. “Such a statement is not only considered hate speech, but is also in violation of the district’s code of conduct by the public on school property.”

Uhteg said any assertion that such words were used because Board President Kenneth Graber was precluding people from speaking at the last meeting “is abhorrent.”

Then Uhteg issued a stern warning: “Be advised that any type of similar hate speech or conduct (words or actions) that violate the district’s public code of conduct will result in the individual or individuals being removed from the board meeting, and when warranted, precluded from being on district property.”

In an unrelated matter, the board unanimously approved a one-year contract extension for Superintendent Michael J. Vallely, the terms of which Graber said will not be released until Tuesday. Vallely’s current contract runs through June 30, 2019. Monday night’s extension now carries it through June 30, 2020.

The extension was formally recommended by outgoing board member Kimberly Nowak.

The contract approval came under fire later in the meeting from Redskins supporter Greg Sojka, who questioned why an extension was granted when Vallely is already under a five-year contract.

Graber noted that it is not unusual for many school boards in area districts to approve contract extensions while their superintendents are in the midst of their original contracts.

The board began preliminary talks about committee assignments leading up to its July 6 reorganization meeting, during which incoming board members-elect Brenda Christopher and Kelly H. Depczynski will be sworn in. The women, both staunch Redskins mascot supporters who have openly made critical comments about the mascot change, will replace outgoing members Wendy Buchert and Nowak, who lost their re-election bids at the height of the Redskins controversy. Neither Christopher nor Depczynski spoke about the issue Monday.

The board gave service awards to Buchert and Nowak and praised them for their service and dedication to the district. Both women gave farewell comments to the community.

The July 6 board reorganizational meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the William Street School. Uhteg is expected to be appointed as the new board president and William Gallagher as vice president.