O'Fallon Progress

Emails fuel call for resignation of O'Fallon school board member 'branded as a racist'

Community members attending an O'Fallon School District 90 board meeting Tuesday night demanded that a board member resign for being a "racist and bigot," with one parent reading controversial emails sent by the board member to the district superintendent.

But, the board member under fire, Steve Springer, told all who attended that he "will not resign." He said he is being falsely accused of being racist.

School board member Jason Boone expressed his own outrage with recent comments made by Springer, and ensured attendees that he and other board members "do not share the same views as him." During the meeting he asked the superintendent to draft a resolution asking for Springer's resignation, which would be considered at the June meeting.

Hundreds poured into the auditorium of Edward A. Fulton Junior High School for the meeting, which was held there to accommodate the expected large attendance due to a Facebook group called "Stand Up At the D90 Board Meeting."

The group was created in response to recent comments from Springer after he challenged the library's selection of a children's book, "Justice Makes A Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter," read at the O'Fallon Public Library March 24 for a children's program, saying it was "inappropriate" and considered it political indoctrination.

"My council presentation objected to the term 'social justice', the advertising as 'Social Justice for Kids,' the use of a taxpayer venue and the appropriateness of the targeting of the age group at 5 years of age," Springer said after the meeting.

Justice Makes a Difference Book Cover.jpg
The cover of "Justice Makes a Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire" by Dr. Artika Tyner. Provided

Ray Roskos, who has two children in District 90, spoke again during the second public comment portion of the meeting. He read aloud two emails from Springer to Carrie Hruby, district superintendent, which he said he obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The two emails detail Springer questioning policy on how to address accommodating a transgender student.

"It seems you have decided to change the God-given biological makeup of this student without input from a court, the BOE or God. The child is a girl. She needs to be referred to as a girl. I am sad she is having such problems and is confused," Springer wrote in one of the emails concerning the transgender student.

Springer continues in the email with requesting the board to, "discuss/address what needs to be done for/with 'transgender' students in this case and in the future. A child with serious 'confusion' issues needs professional assistance, and not at taxpayer expense!"

In another email, Springer made a remark about accommodating the various needs of students.

"Next up?? Yes, next will be a place for Mohamed to wash his little feet and face Mecca three times during the school day," Springer wrote to Hruby.

Boone said he found the emails from Springer to be "disgusting."

Since the meeting, the Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a chapter of the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, is also calling for Springer's resignation over "Islamophobic comments made about Muslim children," according to a press release Thursday.

"Anyone who targets children with this type of derogatory language is unfit to serve on any school board. Mr. Springer should resign immediately," Faizan Syed, CAIR-Missouri executive director, said in a press release.

Springer said after the meeting that he wrote the emails in the spirit of being "proactive, not reactive, so issues will be handled in a timely manner with dignity and respect."

"The purpose of the email exchange in Aug. 2016 was to get a policy committee meeting and subsequent Board of Education (BOE) action to provide policy guidance to our administrators on issues relatively new to our society and our community. It is important for them to act in concert with BOE established policies so that they know we will always back their actions when they act in accordance with those policies," Springer said after the meeting.

"Mr. Springer spent twenty minutes, pontificating on how he was characterized and his comments weren’t racist or bigoted. He defiantly chastised those of us who spoke out against his comments as having racial animus," Roskos said after the meeting.

While acting as a parent during the meeting, Roskos is also the Illinois Federation of Teachers field director.

Roskos asserted that recent email correspondences between Springer and Hruby "clearly, without question, shows he wasn’t truthful with his constituents."

"His email shows he indeed does have racial, LGBT, and religious animus toward people that are different than him. There is no place in our wonderfully diverse public school system for anyone that has extremist views like Mr. Springer has," Roskos said.

Other parents expressed their concern surrounding Springer's comments on the book read at a recent library event for children.

Joe Cipfl, 20-plus year science teacher at Fulton Jr. High, said he's taught "over 4,000 students from a very wide variety of racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds ... without question or even giving it a second thought," as his "duty as an educator, and it's a moral code that I live by."

5-15-18 dist 90 board mtg RK 019.JPG
Joe Cipfl, 20-plus year science teacher at Fulton Jr. High, speaks directly to Steve Springer, (not shown), O'Fallon School District 90 board member under fire for recent comments on an O'Fallon Public Library program highlighting a children's book, "Justice Makes A Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter," last month. At right, other board member Matt Lloyd. Robyn L. Kirsch rkirsch@bnd.com

"I truly believe that the diversity of our school district and our community gives us strength and fosters better understanding among people. Mr. Springer, I don't know what inspired you to make the public comments you did ... regardless of your motivation I find your comments absolutely reprehensible," Cipfl said.

Cipfl called into question Springer's credibility and "ability to make sound inclusive decisions."

Patrick Lawler, who grew up in O'Fallon but now resides in Bloomington-Normal, said that in his "12 years as a teacher I’ve never heard the term social justice depicted in a negative manner. The term is basically synonymous for civic engagement and helping people ... the O'Fallon Library should be applauded for putting on this program, not chastised."

Lawler created the Facebook page called 'Stand Up At the D90 Board Meeting,' to "take a stand with Justice" and solicit increased attendance at Tuesday's meeting. Since the meeting, a similar event has been created for the June board meeting.

"In attacking the library program and the book in question, he said that it didn't represent the culture of the entire community. What does he mean by the entire community? Students of color make up 30 percent of the student body in District 90," Lawler said.

He went on, "If you don't consider them to be part of the community, you have no place on a school board making decisions that impact them on a daily basis. ... We need to be inclusive of all historical narratives and make sure that children of all backgrounds see themselves represented in the literature and stories to which they are exposed."

Springer said he is being wrongly "branded as a racist" for his comments at the April 16 O'Fallon City Council meeting questioning the library's selection of the book.

During that April meeting, Springer asked if the age group of the children, of about 5 years old, was appropriate to explore ideas of social justice, and whether the program "provided a platform for social indoctrination.'"

On Tuesday night, Springer responded to the inquiries from community members.

"Here's the truth of the matter, when I spoke at the April 16 City Council meeting I was not objecting to the book, it's subject matter, its author and/or its presenter. There was never any attempt to hinder or disrupt that library event, I simply objected to the political overtones," Springer said.

More than 120 teachers sporting T-shirts identifying them as members of the O'Fallon Classroom Federation of Teachers Local 628 attended the meeting to enforce a phrase brandished on their shirts, "Solidarity Is Strength."

5-15-18 dist 90 board mtg RK 016.JPG
Every time O'Fallon School District 90 board member Steve Springer spoke during the board meeting Tuesday night about 120 teachers held up uniform red signs with black letters reading, 'Enough.' Robyn L. Kirsch rkirsch@bnd.com

Every time Springer spoke, about 120 teachers held up uniform red signs with black letters reading, 'Enough.'

At one point during the meeting, Springer called attention to the group's actions, and his wife, Robin Springer, who is a past president of the Metro East Pachyderm Club, stood up and called out saying, "I think this is bullying."

About five of the nearly two dozen people who addressed the board rallied in support of Springer, calling him "honorable" and one who has served his community for years in a positive way.

"It was interesting to me that out of a town of approximately 29,000, and around 2500 plus parents in District 90, that a 20 or (more) even speakers can be so arrogant as to claim to represent the viewpoint(s) of all these folks," Springer said after the meeting.

"(He) challenged the reading program in question. He is now unjustly attacked. ... The residents of O'Fallon know Mr. Springer has no racial animus, that he sees people in a positive light and is dedicated to the safety and education of our children," Ron Davinroy, of O'Fallon, said.

The rest of the commenters voiced opposition to his remarks, some calling them "reprehensible" or "disgusting."

Robyn L. Kirsch; 618-239-2690, @BND_RobynKirsch