Grant Nichols, a member of the Columbia Heights school board, will remain in his seat after the school board voted Tuesday on whether to remove him for anti-Muslim comments that he allegedly put on social media.
Emotions ran high at a special meeting held to address the comments. Columbia Heights students, faculty members and parents voiced their concern over the comment — posted using Nichols' Facebook account on a Star Tribune story shared on Facebook — saying that Muslims are unsanitary and do not clean up after themselves.
Nichols has denied that he wrote the comment, which has since been deleted. He was not present at Tuesday's meeting.
Ted Landwehr, vice chairman of the school board, read a message from Nichols to the room. In the letter, Nichols apologized for the comment and said his phone had been hacked. He also said someone took his phone and wrote the comment.
"It was not my intention to cause damage or inconvenience," he said. "I do not agree with the comment … "
He added that the issue is a personal matter and not an issue for the district.
Four votes were required to remove Nichols from the board. Three board members voted to remove him; Landwehr voted to keep him on the board.
School board members demonstrated their opposition to Landwehr's decision. Chairman John Larkin said Landwehr's vote was a slap in the face for the district.
The board's meeting room was packed as its members heard from residents distressed about the comment. The entire room cleared out as soon as the vote was taken in a show of frustration with the board's decision.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), is an alumnus of the district. He said he was appalled by the board's decision.
"A community that was united saw a board that was not," he said. "We cannot have this type of a leader in front of our school while the school is in session."
Earlier, several speakers who identified themselves as Muslim shared stories of discrimination and one parent said the community would boycott the district if Nichols was not removed.
Faculty members and administrators from Columbia Heights schools also displayed their support for the Muslim community. Columbia Academy Principal Duane Berkas asked the audience to stand to rise up for the community, and the entire room stood in solidarity.
Karen Kepple, the school district's attorney, said that Nichols, contrary to his letter's claims, has told others that he did make the comment about Muslims' hygiene practices and believes it to be true.
Hussein said CAIR would mobilize the community and look for options to remove Nichols from the board.