LMT Commissioners Vote Not To Designate Islamic Center as Class 1 Historic Resource – LMSD Moves Forward With Middle School Plan

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In a major win for LMSD and Stoneleigh, the Lower Merion Township Building and Planning Commitee voted to end the process of designating 1860 Montgomery Ave (Islamic Center) as a Class 1 Historic Resource, paving the way for Lower Merion School District to build a middle school on the property and “very likely” ending the district’s possible attempt to acquire all of the Stoneleigh Natural Garden which members of the community have protested. The vote breakdown of the committee was tied 7-7, which came after nearly 3 hours of comment and debate.

Following the meeting, Lower Merion School Board President Melissa Gilbert told me that as a result of the commissioners decision that it “makes it very very likely that Stoneleigh is off the table.” At the time, Gilbert did not specify if “off the table” referred to all of Stoneleigh or just the 6.9 acres that Gilbert in the past said the district needed for athletic fields. The next day, District Spokesperson Amy Buckman said that the 6.9 acres of Stoneleigh were still on the table as a last resort.

Wednesday’s vote would have allowed for the township to draw up an ordinance to make 1860 Montgomery a Class 1 Historic Resource. The vote on the ordinance would have taken place next month. Some commissioners said they believed it was possible for the district to preserve part of the Clairmont building, such as part of the facade. Some commissioners said they thought that they would be able to prevent LMSD from building on Stoneleigh because they still have to approve the Districts plans at 1860. In theory, the commissioners could stop the district from building at 1860 if they still planned to acquire part of Stoneleigh

Tensions were high during the meeting and the outcome was unclear until the final vote took place at 10:40 pm. Before the vote, 4 members of the committee expressed that they were undecided during their comments or that they would simply wait until the vote itself to make their final determination known. President Bernheim cast what was essentially the deciding vote when he voted nay. Just moments before he had presented a plan that would have postponed the vote on reclassification to a later date. Voting yes to the main motion in question would have has a similar outcome where commissioners would have another month to decide on reclassification.

Some commissioners said that there has been misinformation, some from the district, that has led to the current views of members of the community.

Theta Tau Twitter Coverage

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Below is a chronological timeline of my independent reporting of the Theta Tau controversy at Syracuse University. These are not all of my tweets that regarded the incident.

Lower Merion Police Arrest Former MELC Employee – 2 Children Allege “Inappropriate Behavior”

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Posted by Ricky Sayer at 2:50 am on December 1st 2017

Lower Merion police have arrested a former employee of a Lower Merion after school and summer camp program following allegations of “inappropriate behavior” reported by a child. Montgomery Early Learning Centers, (MELC) an organization that runs pre and after school activities for Lower Merion children, fired the employee after a child made an initial allegation. MELC learned this week that a second child reported allegations against the same employee to authorities and that as a result the former employee was arrested.

UPDATE: Charges include: Criminal Attempt – Corruption Of Minors -Defendant Age 18 or Above, Criminal Attempt – Indecent Exposure, Unlawful Contact With Minor – Sexual
Offenses, Criminal Attempt – Open Lewdness, and Open Lewdness.

 

MELC CEO Ann O’Brien sent the following email to some families late Thursday:

“November 30, 2017

Dear MELC Parent, It is with deep regret that we write to inform you that an allegation of inappropriate behavior was made by a child in our care against a MELC staff member. As soon as we learned of the allegation, we took immediate action to protect the child, and other children in our care, by immediately reporting the allegation to Child Protective Services (“ChildLine”), suspending the employee and barring that individual from the school while we conducted an investigation. The employee was terminated at the conclusion of our investigation. We believed this was an isolated event that was best handled by the appropriate authorities. We want to reassure you that this employee was properly vetted (criminal history checks) prior to being hired and had all the appropriate clearances. This was the first time that any report of misconduct by this individual was reported to us.

Over the past week, we learned that a second child had reported inappropriate conduct by the same employee to authorities. We understand that criminal charges have been lodged and the former employee has been arrested. We are writing to advise you of these allegations because it appears that the initial incident may not have been an isolated event.

We are mindful of our responsibilities to you and your children and are concerned that we take all appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the children entrusted to our care, including taking steps to help uncover any additional children who may have been approached by this individual. To that end, we are contacting all families who may have had contact with this former employee at our Cynwyd Elementary program and/or Summer Camp. We are also in touch with the Montgomery County Office of the District Attorney and Lower Merion Police detective who is assigned to investigate these allegations.

This is a very difficult situation for all of us as caregivers and families. If you have any questions about how to raise this issue with your child, we are partnering with Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center for additional support. You may call them at 484-687-2990 and ask to speak with a family advocate for their expert advice. If you believe your child may have experienced any inappropriate behavior while under our care, we urge you Montgomery Early Learning Centers 201 Sabine Avenue Narberth, PA 19072 610-617-4550 melc.org to contact Detective Hunsicker (610-645-6233) of the Lower Merion Township Police Department. Because we have been advised that there are criminal charges pending against this individual, we are limited in terms of the information we can disclose. We know that it is imperative that we do nothing that might taint the integrity of the criminal process that is underway by providing too much in the way of detail.

The Lower Merion School District will be sharing this information with all elementary and middleschool families. In addition, please know that we at MELC are committed to providing any appropriate supports that our families may require and are in the process of identifying those services. Finally, we are working with Mission Kids to hold a community event in the very near future where we can come together to discuss these issues in greater depth. In the meantime, please feel to call me at 610-617- 4550 x 3027 or contact me by email at aobrien@melc.org. You may also contact Theresa Snyder, Program Director at 610-617-4550 x3025 or tsnyder@melc.org.

In closing, let me say that I am a mom first and a CEO second. I take MELC’s responsibility to ensure the safety of your children personally and seriously. This letter is difficult for me to write and I know that it is difficult for you to read. Please know that I will continue to work tirelessly, as will all MELC staff, to ensure your child’s safety and support you through this difficult time.

Ann O’Brien CEO”

Ricky Sayer is a Syracuse University student majoring in Broadcast and Digital Journalism. He is a 2017 graduate of Harriton High School of Lower Merion.