New Democratic Pennridge School Board majority votes to replace controversial curriculum

Pennridge Central Middle School.

The Pennridge School Board, recently taken over by a new Democratic majority, voted to undo changes to school curricula enacted by conservatives who are no longer on the board.

By a 6-3 vote Jan. 22, the board brought back a ninth grade early American history course that had been scrapped last year by the previous majority and replaced with a curriculum created in conjunction with a right-wing consulting firm. The new Pennridge board also voted at the Jan. 22 meeting to bring back a high school social studies credit requirement that the previous majority had eliminated.

It was the new board’s first full meeting since voters ousted the former conservative majority from the board in November. The decision to roll back the curriculum change was just one of many adjustments the new board had campaigned on making. Prior to the Democratic board’s election, conservatives had spent the past two years passing policies targeting transgender students, mandating that teachers take down “advocacy materials,” including LGBTQ+ pride flags, and more.

Pennridge board members who were part of the previous majority argued that the board should continue to discuss the decision to change the curriculum rather than take action immediately.

“I just would like to see us, I guess, have it more drawn out and more specifics,” board member Jordan Blomgren said before making a motion to table the discussion, which failed.

“I don’t want to slow up the changes that have to happen in ninth grade curriculum for us to work out all those details,” new board member Leah Foster-Rash said.

The debate over the curriculum is tied to one of the former board’s most controversial actions: the hiring of conservative education activist Jordan Adams as a consultant.

Adams is a graduate and former employee of Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian institution in Michigan, and also the founder of the one-man education consulting firm Vermilion Education.

Vermilion describes itself as “working with school boards to secure a transparent and ideology-free education for all students.”

Critics assert Adams and his firm do just the opposite.

At the time of Adams’ hiring in April 2023, parents, teachers and other Pennridge community members worried Vermilion would inject ideology into students’ education and questioned his qualifications.

The Sarasota County School District in Florida also considered working with Vermilion last year, though it ultimately decided not to move ahead with the idea, which had been brought forward by Bridget Ziegler, a co-founder of the right-wing organization Moms for Liberty and the chair of the Sarasota County School Board.

Pennridge paid Adams $35,000 to review its ninth grade social studies curriculum. He suggested that it implement Hillsdale College’s 1776 curriculum, derived from a report published by former President Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission on U.S. history in 2021. Historians have said the Trump administration’s report is historically inaccurate and biased in favor of conservative ideology.

The previous board’s hiring of Adams was a catalyst for efforts to replace the old majority.

“I think that got the community more (attuned) and more involved,” Heather Young, a parent who is involved with the Pennridge Democrats, told the American Independent in November.

During its final meeting in November 2023, just before the new board majority took office, the outgoing Pennridge board voted to cancel its contract with Adams but to pay him $5,000 against a final invoice.