Embattled Columbia Heights school board member Grant Nichols defied both a hostile crowd and a board resolution Tuesday night, saying he would not resign his post over anti-Muslim comments attributed to him on Facebook.
More than 50 parents, students, faculty and community members spoke against Nichols, and only two supported him at a board meeting so crowded that it spilled into a remote hall with a video feed.
In the end, school board members John Larkin, Molly Lewis and Laura Palmer voted for Nichols to resign, and that resolution carried, with Ted Landwehr and Nichols abstaining.
Nichols said he stands by his earlier statement that he didn’t post the comment disparaging the sanitary habits of Muslims and also said he won’t name the person who used his phone to do so.
“I don’t feel like throwing him under the bus,” Nichols said.
Nichols said he’s a believer in diversity’s power to move people forward. He called the situation unprofessional, and that someone added fuel to the fire.
“Everybody has people that don’t like them here in the community,” he said.
The comment attributed to Nichols was posted Sept. 6 on a Star Tribune article shared on Facebook.
The incident sparked an investigation and a Sept. 15 special school board meeting, at which members failed by a single vote to force Nichols to resign. Having failed in that effort, the board could do no more than pass a resolution at Tuesday’s meeting.
After the Sept. 15 vote, students, teachers and administrators staged a walkout. On Friday, Gov. Mark Dayton visited the high school to praise students for protesting and urge Nichols to step down.
On Tuesday, a crowd too big to fit into the school board’s meeting room — including students and school staff members — held signs before the meeting, demanding that Nichols resign. Chants included “Muslim families matter” and “Ted, change your vote,” referring to Landwehr, the board’s vice chairman who last week voted to keep Nichols on the board.
Nichols has not responded to repeated requests for an interview.
More than 50 community members, including state Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-Fridley, addressed Nichols and the school board at Tuesday’s meeting.
Many called the Facebook comment deplorable.
Columbia Academy Principal Duane Berkas read a resolution on behalf of the principals in the district, saying that Nichols was “unfit to lead this district as a member of the board of education” and asking for his immediate resignation.
As person after person addressed him, Nichols sat reactionless.
Hannah Dereje, 16, a junior at Columbia Heights High School, isn’t Muslim, but wanted to show her solidarity.
“It hurts to see them hurt,” she said before the meeting.
Columbia Heights has seen sweeping demographic changes in the past two decades. At Columbia Heights High School, 72 percent of students identify as black, Hispanic, Asian or American Indian.