Embattled school board member Grant Nichols wiped away a tear after his resignation at the Columbia Heights District Center on Tuesday, following a month of controversy that roiled the district over a Facebook comment that was critical of Muslims.
He said his resignation was spurred by the chaos in the district, still asserting that someone else made the anti-Muslim Facebook comment.
“I care very much about the students and the district, so in order to end this current turmoil for the good of the district and its students, I will resign,” Nichols told attendees at the meeting.
He said that a special election will be held to fill his seat.
The resignation comes after a Friday meeting with Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minnesota (CAIR); other Muslim community leaders; state Rep. Carolyn Laine, and City Council Member Donna Schmitt.
Ahmed AL-Beheary, of the National Egyptian American Society, said the group stood united with the board, and wouldn’t focus on the specifics of what was said, but instead would focus on the future.
“We’re going to overwrite all these comments,” AL-Beheary said.
The social media post at the center of Nichols’ resignation called Muslims “unsanitary.”
On Tuesday night, Nichols apologized for the hurt the incident caused to the Muslim community. And he proposed the district install foot-washing stations in the high school to be accommodating to Muslim students’ needs.
Nichols still insists that someone else used his account to make the Facebook comment, and he presented a notarized letter at Friday’s meeting from an individual taking blame for the comment. Some in the community still aren’t convinced that Nichols didn’t post the comment.
“I feel like until someone comes up and says it was me or until someone can say who did it, I believe that he did it,” said Ayan Jama, a 16-year-old 10th-grader at Columbia Heights High School.
On Monday afternoon, Nichols posted a note on Facebook saying he alone made the decision to resign.
“Too much hate spilled on both sides and it needs to stop,” he wrote.
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 fell one vote short of forcing Nichols to resign. After the vote, students, teachers and administrators staged a walkout.
Gov. Mark Dayton visited the high school to praise students for protesting and urged Nichols to step down. The next week, the board passed a resolution calling for his resignation. There, Nichols refused to resign, calling the situation unprofessional.
However, on Tuesday he did step down, telling a crowd that it’s unfair to use one instance to judge someone.
“You judge somebody by everything that they’ve done or who they are,” he said. “A lot of people, they’re just picking and choosing. They don’t really know who I am.”
Paul Walsh contributed to this report.