Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission responds to Cumberland Valley canceling actor’s event over “lifestyle”

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(WHTM) – The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission on Tuesday released a statement addressing Cumberland Valley School District’s decision to cancel actor Maulik Pancholy’s planned assembly due to what one school board member called Pancholy’s “lifestyle.”

Pancholy, who is Asian-American and gay, speaks frequently against bullying and is the author of two fiction books — and is in the process of publishing a third — based loosely on his childhood experiences of being bullied. He played Jonathan on the NBC show “30 Rock,” which aired from 2006 through 2013.

The event’s cancelation has drawn national attention and backlash against the district. The school board is now considering reversing its decision to cancel the assembly with Pancholy, which would focus on bullying.

One board member, Bud Shaffner, made a motion during an April Cumberland Valley School District board director’s meeting to cancel the speech. “I know he’s a homosexual activist,” Shaffner said in part, adding “he is proud of his lifestyle, and I don’t think that should be imposed upon our students,” Shaffner said during the meeting.

A special meeting has been scheduled for April 24 to consider the decision.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission said it was just made aware of the school board’s decision regarding Pancholy’s canceled event.

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“It is concerning to see a public school cancel an event about anti-bullying and inclusion,” said PHRC Executive Director Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW. “This was an opportunity for students to hear from someone who they may relate to, and instead students are learning about exclusion and discrimination. I would also like to express support for the school’s superintendent who is speaking against the school board’s decision. As a commonwealth, we should be finding more opportunities to teach diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, not restricting them.”

The district superintendent and other top administrators have expressed varying degrees of disappointment and outrage over the 8-0 decision Monday night to cancel the assembly, which Mountain View Middle School administrators had scheduled as part of an ongoing annual series of speeches by authors.

“This situation is an example of why representation in education matters,” said PHRC Education & Outreach Director Desireé Chang, M.S.  “These students are seeing firsthand how a person can be discriminated against and excluded just by simply embracing parts of their identity openly. This is not the example we should be modeling to our students.”

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