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.

East Penn School District Superintendent Thomas L. Seidenberger
East Penn School District Superintendent Thomas L. Seidenberger

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.

DHAMMER September 26, 2013 at 10:49 AM
Why is it every time something like this happens a file or photos have been misplaced? What was his past views on Gun control? 43 year Career in Education ! Listen I'm no Advocate for Teachers or their Unions or their School Boards because most are Leftist Liberals, but This man is an Educator and deserves a chance.
Mark Methlie September 29, 2013 at 12:29 PM
So, complaining about the omission of a school team is extremism. But complaining about a school raffle of a gun is OK. Or the true lesson of 21st century, anyone who disagrees with me is an extremist.
thesilentmajority September 30, 2013 at 11:32 AM
"How Gun Rights Commenters Chased a Superintendent Out of His Job"....really?? Find it hard to believe that something like this drove a man who appears to have been in education his whole professional career and superintendent of numerous school districts in PA, NJ & CT into retirement. This man is no stranger to the press and controversies. http://articles.philly.com/2002-12-16/news/25359881_1_educational-services-district-matters-thomas-seidenberger http://bulletin.gmnews.com/news/2005-03-10/Front_Page/004.html In today's digital world anybody holding any public position must have thick enough skin to deal with the truths and untruths that come their way. Something the rest of us in this district will not miss is all the drama!!
careless fills September 30, 2013 at 06:52 PM
The sensational headline for this article most likely makes an extreme extrapolation. I'd be curious if they have done any actual reporting to confirm the opinion in the headline, and if they are just pouring petrol on the fire, since the article doesn't support the headline. My first reaction (last week) to the resignation, that I posted then at another place was: With all the new Obamacare taxes on income including his $44,725 NJ pension, he probably can't afford to keep working! (see http://php.app.com/njretire07/details2.php?recordID=69701) All kidding aside, a big loss for EPSD, but a well deserved retirement after a long career. There's really not much sense for a 9-5 after 65. Work sucks! Ditto for Ms. Birdsell. Best wishes for both!
Robert Sentner October 01, 2013 at 08:48 AM
This might be the poorest article I have ever read on the Patch. Susan Koomar you have lowered yourself to this, your next job should be the National Enquirer. Full of no fact checking, sensationalism, and total disrespect for the Superintendent and Rifle team.


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