O'Fallon Progress

O'Fallon school board says it doesn't support comments by member called on to resign

O’Fallon parent wants District 90 board member to resign

O’Fallon parent shares why he feels Steve Springer, OFallon School District 90 board member, should step down after challenging selection of children’s book at the O’Fallon Public Library.
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O’Fallon parent shares why he feels Steve Springer, OFallon School District 90 board member, should step down after challenging selection of children’s book at the O’Fallon Public Library.

O'Fallon District 90 school board members voiced their disagreement Thursday with Steve Springer's remarks about a transgender student in emails about accommodating the student that were released Tuesday.

A statement from six of Springer's fellow board members was released just after 6 p.m. Thursday, stating that "Mr. Springer is but one member" of the board, and "authority is granted to the elected officials of the Board of Education as a whole, not to each member individually."

Along with the remarks about the transgender student, Springer also referenced accommodating a hypothetical Muslim student in the released emails, which were sent to Superintendent Carrie Hruby.

Those remarks have the Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations also calling for Springer's resignation along with many others in the local community.

"When he voiced his opinions, his voice was his alone. Furthermore we do not agree with nor support the comments made in the released emails and will not endorse discriminatory policies of any kind," the statement from fellow board members stated.

The statement also says, "District 90 teaches tolerance, acceptance and kindness from the moment our students walk into the classrooms."

O'Fallon School District 90 officials released this statement on May 17, condemning comments by school board member Steve Springer. Provided

But Springer will not resign, something he made clear at Tuesday night's school board meeting. On Friday, Springer reiterated that position, saying he still has "no plans to resign."

In the statement from the board, members also highlighted something Hruby stated: "Each and every school day, one can witness students being encouraged to explore and grow their own strengths, but perhaps more importantly, to find strengths in one another by embracing our differences."

The controversial emails sent by Springer, three-term veteran school board member, were read aloud Tuesday by parent Ray Roskos during a District 90 board of education meeting.

Roskos obtained the emails through Freedom of Information Act requests. The emails were sent to Hruby in August 2016 over policy regarding accommodations for a student who is transgender.

While he was acting as a parent during the Tuesday board meeting, Roskos is also the field director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Since the meeting, CAIR-Missouri, a chapter of the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, has also called for Springer's resignation over "Islamophobic comments made about Muslim children," according to a Thursday news release.

"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, wrote.

Hundreds of community members showed up to the school board meeting Tuesday after Springer publicly challenged the O'Fallon Public Library's selection of a children's book, "Justice Makes A Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire," which was read at the library on March 24 as part of a children's program.

Springer had said the choice of book was "inappropriate" and considered it political indoctrination.

Springer says he is wrongly being branded a racist and a bigot over what he says are misinterpreted comments about both the library event and the emails.

"The opinions I voiced were indeed, mine alone," he said. "I never asked anyone on the board to support or agree with my comments and I, too, do not endorse discriminatory policies of any kind."

Springer also said the statement from the board was drafted without his input and called the decision to release a statement without his participation "totally unethical." He said that decision also violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

"That was verified to me by the board president, John Wagnon, just this afternoon," he said in an email to the News-Democrat.

Wagnon was not immediately available for comment.

Two of the many speakers at the District 90 school board meeting voice their opinion on an O'Fallon school board member who was called a racist after challenging a public library book read to kids.

Emails lead to accusations of racism, bigotry

Hruby, the superintendent, wrote in an email that the administration was handling the issue of a transgender student "very sensitively," and that the student in question was born female but identifies as male.

The administration collaborated with the student, along with his parents, to "arrange for him to change for P.E. and take restroom breaks in the nurse's office area," Hruby said in her email to Springer.

"It seems you have decided to change the God-given biological makeup of this student without input from a court, the BOE or God," Springer wrote in one of the emails concerning the student. "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 continued by requesting in the email that the board "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 hypothetical needs of various 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.

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.

The emails were the final straw for Jason Boone, fellow board member, who said Tuesday he found the emails from Springer to be "disgusting," and that he wants him to resign. Since then, Boone has taken to social media sites like Facebook to encourage the community to join the push to remove Springer from the BOE.

Boone FB post on Springer.jpg
May 16, 2018, Facebook post on Jason Boone, O'Fallon School District 90 Board of Education member, calling others to join the movement to push fellow board member Steve Springer off the board where he has served for three terms. Graphic

In a May 16 Facebook post, Boone stated: "Is he the kind of person you want making decisions that impact the education of our children? I urge you to contact your board members and ask that they vote at the next meeting to request Mr. Springer resign."

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.

Pachyderm member supports 'anti-Islam' speaker

Springer is a longtime member of the O'Fallon-based Metro East Pachyderm Club, a conservative Republican group, where his wife, Robin, is former president.

The club's values are: "to promote active citizen involvement and education in government and politics and support of grassroots, Republican clubs across America."

In December 2014, Bill "Warner" French, former Tennessee State University physics professor, was invited by the club to speak. French is a popular critic of Islam, a writer and the founder of the Center for the Study of Political Islam.

Warner claims, "Islam is not constructed on the same civilizational principles as the rest of the world."

"I'm alarmed by it — in every sense of the word," Roskos said of the YouTube video of Bill Warner that has been applauded by Springer's fellow club members for saying things such as, "You’ve got to become a bigot."

In the video, near the 27-minute mark, Roskos points out, "He says, something along the lines of, ‘Where are your stripes? You’ve got to become a bigot. You have to become hated’ within your community.”

"And these O’Fallon Pachyderm members are heard agreeing with him and applauding him (throughout) the video. It's disgusting," Roskos said. "It gives context to the situation now and his belief system, and his group's belief system, and why he shouldn't be a board member."

Children's book prompts call for resignation

With hundreds pouring into the Fulton Jr. High School gym for the BOE meeting Tuesday night, nearly two dozen parents expressed their concern surrounding Springer's challenging of the O'Fallon Public Library's selection of the children's book "Justice Makes A Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire."

The book is about an 8-year-old African-American girl named Justice, who learns about important men and women throughout history, like Ella Baker, Charles Hamilton Houston and Ida B. Wells, through conversations with her grandmother. In the book, Justice learns about how to improve the world and be a leader for change.

The book was part of a children's program on March 24, which Springer asserted at the O'Fallon City Council meeting April 16 was "inappropriate" and considered to be 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.

Parents and community members have created a second Facebook group called "Stand Up At the D90 Board Meeting," encouraging discussion online and for people to attend the 6 p.m. June 4 meeting. The group was created in response to recent comments from Springer after he challenged the library's selection of a children's book.

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