News

Protestors call for Spring Grove director's resignation

Written by Lillian Reed/Hanover Evening Sun | Mar 7, 2017 10:16 AM
spring_grove_protest.jpg

Protestors crowd into the Spring Grove Area School Board meeting room Monday to demand board member Matthew Jansen's resignation following a controversial tweet in February. (Photo: Lillian Reed - The Evening Sun)

(Spring Grove) -- Spring Grove school board member Matthew Jansen insists he's not a racist and has had a change of heart since last summer when he drew backlash for leaving a message criticizing Islam on the answering machine of a local church.

Those sentiments did not deter more than 50 people from attending a Spring Grove Area School Board meeting Monday, the majority of whom are demanding Jansen's resignation following a tweet published to his personal Twitter account in February.

Jansen said the tweet, which contained an ethnic slur for Mexican immigrants who have immigrated illegally, was the result of his account being hacked and was published while he was asleep. The tweet was deleted and Jansen's account setting has since been switched to private.

District residents, students and teachers crowded into the meeting room Monday holding signs reading "Hate has no home here" and "Jansen resign."

Jansen acknowledged in February that he might have used the ethnic slur before last year, but he would never think to use that language now. Since the tweet was not written by him, he will not resign.

"Anybody who knows me would say I'm not a racist," Jansen said after the meeting Monday. "I went to a black college. I have interracially dated. I am probably one of the most inclusive and open-minded people with regards to nationality and race and religion. And that might be hard to believe, but it's the truth."

Last June, Jansen received criticism for a message he left on the answering machine of a local church. Jansen left a message on the Rev. Christopher Rodkey's voicemail that he was shocked to see a sign wishing Muslim neighbors "a blessed Ramadan" in front of St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Dallastown.

In the message, he called Islam "godless" and called the sign "despicable."

After the message, some residents attended multiple school board meetings to ask for Jansen's resignation. The school board member refused to step down but later apologized for his comments and attended a Ramadan meal and a worship service at Hadee Mosque in Harrisburg.

Carla Christopher, an equity coordinator at the charter York County School of Technology, said during the public comment session of Monday's meeting that Jansen's actions in the past year have rippled out to affect some students of the school district.

"I had a student today that said they are so glad they are able to escape Spring Grove schools," Christopher said. "As an educator, I believe in free speech. The one thing that I believe in more than free speech is the safety and the priority of a school district. Students who feel threatened, who feel harassed and who feel in danger do not learn properly."

Another resident, Jaclyn Stough, who said she has known Jansen personally for several years, defended the school director during public comment.

"Everyone has the right to their opinion," Stough said, calling the protests a form of bullying.

"If you don't like something on Facebook, do you have to read it -- no," she said. "If you don't like something on Twitter, block it."

Several residents criticized the board during public comment, reading out passages of the school district's own diversity statements and handbooks.

"I have been told numerous times that there is no point in addressing certain issues any more because the board's hands are tied," said Spring Grove high school student Amy Gunzelman. "What I refuse to believe is that hatred can win this easily."

Gunzelman asked the board to formally censure Jansen or to vote on a formal resolution denouncing Jansen.

Board President Cindy Huber read from a prepared statement before public comment, denouncing the tweet and distancing the district from Jansen's social media accounts.

"It would be highly unusual for any school board to concern itself with the social media postings of any school board member," Huber said. "He has indicated his Twitter account was hacked. It was not the role of this board to investigate."

Huber also stated that the board has no authority to remove a member or compel him or her to resign.

This article is part of a partnership between WITF and the Hanover Evening Sun.

Published in News

Tagged under , , , ,

back to top

Give Now

Estate Planning

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Smart Talk

National Edward R. Murrow Awards

DuPont Columbia Awards

Support Local Journalism

Latest News from NPR

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »