PENNCREST School District's solicitor resigns

Jan. 27—Recent PENNCREST School District policy changes approved by the board have now put the district in need of a new law firm.

A Jan. 20 letter to PENNCREST School Board President Luigi DeFrancesco from attorney George Joseph cited the board's recent revisions to two district policies and said those policies have compromised the law firm's ability to represent the board. Joseph is a partner with the Quinn Law Firm of Erie.

DeFrancesco and fellow board members Timothy Brown and Jeff Brooks on Thursday confirmed the resignation letter from Joseph and the firm had been received.

The Panther Press, Saegertown High School's newspaper, first reported the story on its website Thursday morning.

Earlier this month, the school board voted to revise Policy 109.2 regarding library materials and Policy 123 on interscholastic sports participation.

The library policy revisions require the district to prioritize materials "that do not contain sexualized content" in selecting library materials. The revisions also explicitly prohibit material that contain "visual or visually implied depictions of sexual acts or simulations of such acts; explicit written depictions of sexual acts; or visual depictions of nudity — not including materials with diagrams about anatomy for science or content relating to classical works of art."

Policy 123 was revised to include the phrase "biological (at birth)" for male and female students participating in interscholastic sports.

"An attorney and solicitor for a school district has an obligation to represent the interests of the district zealously within the bounds of the law," Joseph wrote in the resignation letter. "Recent actions by the board have highlighted a fundamental disagreement by a majority of the board with the legal analysis and opinions of our office and, in our analysis, significantly compromised our ability to provide legal ongoing services to the district and the existing school board."

The board ignoring legal advice is what prompted the resignation, Joseph wrote. He said he urged the board to defer any action while he reviewed what impact recently updated Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission regulations might have on the proposed revised policies.

"Most notably, I recently rendered a legal opinion highlighting a number of concerns regarding proposed changes to Policies 109.2 and 123," Joseph wrote. "The board chose not to take my advice. Given my legal opinion, I am constrained to conclude that this firm would not be in a position to zealously represent the district's position in any anticipated litigation."

Pennsylvania's rules of professional responsibility for attorneys "make it clear that my legal obligation, however, is neither to the administration nor to the individual board members, but to the district as a separate legal organization," Joseph wrote.

Joseph said the policy changes aren't the first time the board chose to disregard his legal opinion.

"There have been several such instances," he wrote. "That is, of course, the board's choice. As I said to you previously, I render legal advice, but the board is not obligated to take it."

While disagreements with a legal opinion happen, Joseph took exception to how some board members expressed their disagreement publicly at a Jan. 9 board work session that Joseph didn't attend.

"When I was informed that, at the January 9, 2023 public work session, one board member referred to my legal opinion on the policies as 'a joke ... not even legal' and another said that the opinion was 'worthless,' that was unconscionable to me," Joseph wrote. "While board members may disagree with my opinions, I cannot ignore a statement impugning my reputation as a member of the legal community in a public forum, especially where there is no practical opportunity for me or my partner to respond."

Contacted by The Meadville Tribune on Thursday, Joseph declined to comment on his letter other that to say it had been submitted.

DeFrancesco also declined comment on the resignation, calling it a "personnel matter."

Brooks told the Tribune that the letter had been shared with school board members earlier this week.

"It's a shame when an established solicitor is resigning due to the behavior of the board," he said. "It's a shame people are losing faith in the board and we're not focusing on the children."

What's next

With the resignation of the Quinn Law Firm, PENNCREST plans to seek a new law firm, according to Superintendent Timothy Glasspool.

"We will not have a solicitor in the interim," he wrote in an email to the Tribune.

The district plans to advertise in the legal journals of Crawford and Erie counties for requests for proposals from law firms, Glasspool said. Those proposals will be due Feb. 24 with the firm that's approved by the school board then expected to provide services starting March 16, according to the request.

Keith Gushard can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at