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Pennsylvania school board reinstates talk by ‘30 Rock’ actor after canceling over his ‘lifestyle’

<i>Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Actor Maulik Pancholy praised students at the Cumberland Valley School district who spoke out against bullying after their local school board overturned a vote to cancel his upcoming book talk.
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
Actor Maulik Pancholy praised students at the Cumberland Valley School district who spoke out against bullying after their local school board overturned a vote to cancel his upcoming book talk.

By Chelsea Bailey, CNN

(CNN) — A school board in Pennsylvania reversed its unanimous decision to cancel a speech by former “30 Rock” actor and anti-bullying advocate Maulik Pancholy over concerns about his activism and “lifestyle.”

The decision sparked a backlash from students, parents and community members who felt the board canceled Pancholy’s appearance because he is gay.

After two weeks of outcry, the Cumberland Valley School District’s school board held a special meeting Wednesday that resulted in a 5-4 vote to reinstate Pancholy’s visit to a local middle school.

The actor and author reacted to the news in a video posted to social media the following day.

“I’m deeply grateful to the hundreds of people who showed up and for the outpouring of support from the superintendent, administrators, parents, caregivers, teachers, and community members,” he said.

Pancholy said he was especially moved by students in the school district who bravely spoke during a public comment session at the meeting.

“Thank you for sharing your powerful messages of love, inclusion, respect, and belonging. It was an honor to listen to each of you,” he said. “I cannot wait to meet all of you in person.”

Pancholy is an actor best known for his role on “30 Rock” and as the voice of Baljeet Tjinder on the cartoon “Phineas and Ferb.” He’s also the author of two award-winning children’s books about bullying and LGBTQ inclusion.

Wednesday’s school board meeting, which lasted for more than five hours, began with apologies from some board members, including Bud Schaffner, who, according to CNN affiliate WHP-TV, faces calls for his resignation over remarks he made during the April 15 meeting about Pancholy’s sexuality.

“I want to apologize to everyone this evening, especially our students, staff and families,” Schaffner said. “I will accept the blame because of the insensitive word I spoke on April 15. I fully understand the interpretation of my poor word choice, but that is not what I meant. I am not a prejudiced person and that is not who I am or what Cumberland Valley stands for.”

“I am proud of the diversity in the Cumberland Valley school district and agree that nothing could be more important than a message of acceptance and anti-bullying, not only for our students but for everyone.”

But for many members of the community, including students, the apologies and the board’s reversal did not go far enough.

“When you voted to cancel the assembly you sent students the message that it is okay to judge people who are different from you,” one eighth grade student told the board. “It is your job to use your position of power to help people when instead you are using it to cause harm.

“I am here to say that the students of Cumberland Valley will not tolerate bullying behavior from the adults on our school board.” 

CVSD parent Trisha Comstock, who started a petition to reinstate Pancholy’s talk that gained more than 9,000 signatures, thanked the board members who apologized but stressed the work toward building a more tolerate and inclusive community will continue.

“When someone has a loss of belonging, it compromises their wellbeing,” Comstock said. “Don’t we want all of our students, our staff, and our community at large to feel like they belong? When that happens, we all win … And we’re just getting started.”

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