15 Sep 2014
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Patch Instagram photo by mixiescafe
Patch Instagram photo by mixiescafe
Patch Instagram photo by mixiescafe

How Gun Rights Commenters Chased a Superintendent Out of His Job

Two weeks of criticism from gun proponents preceded the surprise announcement that East Penn's school superintendent plans to retire.

How Gun Rights Commenters Chased a Superintendent Out of His Job

By Jennifer Marangos and Susan Koomar

Monday's surprise announcement that East Penn School Superintendent Thomas L.  Seidenberger intends to retire came after two weeks of attacks from gun proponents upset that Emmaus High School's championship rifle team was omitted from the 2012-13 yearbook.

One critic called Seidenberger a "worm" because of the omission and said rifle team members will become sharpshooters who will save his "fat ass."

Parent and  school board candidate Chris Donatelli complained about the omission at the Sept. 9 school board meeting. Donatelli's son, Stephen, was a member of the rifle team. 

Donatelli's complaint was not immediately addressed because the district's policy is not to have school officials respond directly to community members during the public comment portion of meetings.

Picture Was Misplaced

The yearbook omission was accidental, not intentional, Seidenberger said Monday. He said, "People, especially in the athletic department, are concerned that the picture was misplaced."

A special yearbook insert is being created to honor the rifle team.

But the yearbook omission resulted in a  barrage of attention including a story on the website Guns.com that received more than 7,000 Facebook likes and more than 100 comments.

Similar stories appeared on websites including  The Free Patriot and  Opposing Views and on pro-gun websites in  New York and  Connecticut.

Seidenberger at Monday's meeting read aloud from an email that said rifle team members “will one day become sharpshooters and save your fat ass" and “you are less than a worm with no right to be a superintendent of anything other than a garbage can."

"I know I am supposed to say things that are politically correct,” Seidenberger said, “but for someone to even remotely suggest that when the picture of the team was omitted that it was a gun control issue…I am deeply saddened and see no reason that anyone should have hinted at that.”

Soul Searching

Seidenberger, 65, has been an educator for 43 years. The school board last year  renewed his contract for five years.

His surprise retirement announcement came as he wrapped up his superintendent's report to the board Monday. Seidenberger was visibly emotional as he spoke about making the decision to retire after "soul searching."

Two school board members then circled back to the rifle team uproar.

Board President Charles Ballard said that “just for the record he wanted to put something out on the rifle team situation” and then went on to list the many ways the rifle team had been honored “besides the mistake in the yearbook in which a CD of pictures got misplaced.”

Board Vice President Alan Earnshaw, who is seeking reelection, said “it’s a shame that when Mr. Donatelli raised the issue, he did not simply stick to the facts."

“We are one of five schools in the Lehigh Valley Conference that even offer rifle team as a competitive sport. We have paid for coaching, transportation, supplies. We contracted with the Borough of Emmaus to provide (the team) with a shooting range. To say that we do not support the rifle team in any sense is absurd," Earnshaw said.

What do you think of the rifle team yearbook controversy and of Seidenberger's retirement announcement?  Share your opinion in our new community forum.

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