I’ve spent a great deal of energy in the past week fighting with the school board in my little burg of New Albany, Ohio. My beef: unlike every other school board in the area, New Albany has refused to impose a mask mandate. Instead they made masks optional which, if you know anything about how such things go, means that there is really nothing making anyone wear masks and thus kids, largely, weren’t wearing masks. The school year is only a week or so in and we already have a bunch of kids getting quarantined. We’re on the fast track to remote learning again if something doesn’t change, and no one wants that.
I specifically spent the last week highlighting New Albany’s misguided mask policy and then dragging one of the school board members, Phil Derrow, who has been the guy quarterbacking the board’s strategy with respect to masks. Normally I’d just let a decision I disagreed with go on the basis of “you can’t fight city hall,” but a little bit of digging revealed that Derrow is not just someone who disagrees with me. Rather, he’s a man who is enthralled with antivaxxers, anti-maskers, and COVID deniers and frauds. I found that by discovering his Twitter account, which hardly anyone knew about, where I found a litany of over-the-top stupid and offensive tweets. One of them compared mask mandates with the Holocaust. Another said that vaccine and mask mandates should be “flushed down the toilet” and that people who supported them should join them “in the sewer.” The guy’s a peach.
The two articles I wrote on the matter created quite a stir in these parts. It made the local news, too. In light of all of that, the school board called a special meeting last night to take up Derrow’s tweets and to reconsider the lack of a mask mandate. Seeing as though (a) this meeting likely wouldn’t have been scheduled if I hadn’t started stirring shit; and (b) it’s generally good form to show up and take the heat if you stir shit, I went to the board meeting and put myself on the speakers list.
While I realized that my articles had made the rounds in the community, I was not quite prepared for just how much this meeting was going to turn into a referendum on . . . me.
As soon as I got there I sat down in the back of the room, the woman in front of me had her phone out and my personal blog was up on it:
My first thought was “oh, good, she’s on my side.” Then she turned around, saw me, rolled her eyes, sighed dramatically, and I knew better. When the first two speakers stood up and began talking about “some writer trying to to cancel everyone” the woman in front of me was nodding and holding her hand up like a Southern Baptist feeling the Spirit of the Lord. It was at this point that I got the notion that this meeting was going to be a complete shit show.
The first four or five speakers attacked me, without mentioning me by name. One of them was a woman who had sent me a crappy email to which I responded crappily the the other day. In her comments from the lectern she less-than-subtly suggested that my lack of a religious background is what causes me to be such an asshole. I wanted to stand up at that point and say “hey, correlation is not causation . . . I’m an asshole in spite of my lack of religion, not because of it!” but I decided to keep decorum. Instead I sat quietly and listened to the multiple speakers referring to me as “that writer,” that “wannabe reporter,” and a “member of the media elite” repeating discredited COVID claims propagated by fraudsters such as Alex Berenson and the like. In case you want to know how society is going.
My favorite speaker was the woman who was a legit Spanish Flu truther. Really. She literally said that, back 100 years ago, during the Spanish Flu Epidemic, it was the masks, not the flu, that killed people. She then pointed out her middle school daughter who she brought with her, noting how proud she was to show her how government works. In case you want to know how future society will go.
My second favorite speaker was the one right before me who was vehemently anti-mask and anti-vaccine, but who then made the curious choice to note that the flu was down dramatically from last year. To be sure she (a) characterized it in terms of “the flu being down 130%” which is mathematically impossible; and (b) her point basically proved the utility of masks, but I decided to employ Bluto Blutarsky rules and just let her go with it because, forget it, she was rolling. Coming in third was the man who noted that “500-some kids have died of COVID and, really, when you go by the percentages, that’s not that many.” He seemed fun and stable.
My kids didn’t go with me because all of this would bore them to tears, but I kept them involved as well:
As the evening went on there were, thankfully, a good number of people who see the world as I do, too, and who (a) demanded that the board impose a mask mandate; and (b) demanded that Mr. Masks-are-the-Holocaust resign. Many of them were physicians and scientists and otherwise educated people who know a thing or two and it reminded me that, yes, I actually live in a pretty enlightened town, even if it’s really easy to forget that sometimes when all of the medieval folks are barking.
I spoke about an hour into the meeting. You can see my comments here, but the audio is not great and I talked a little too quickly. Here’s the text of my speech:
Many of you no doubt read my article on Board Member Derrow’s social media posts this past week. I’ve received a great deal of feedback on it, the overwhelming majority of it positive.
To the extent I’ve received pushback, it has come in form of complaints that it sought to “take down” Mr. Derrow or to “cancel” him over what he himself has admitted was a single misguided tweet.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
To the contrary, my purpose in writing, and my purpose in being here today, is to illustrate just how unfit Mr. Derrow is to weigh in on matters relating to the pandemic and our schools’ response to it. And, given the state of affairs today, how unfit that makes him to hold a seat on the New Albany-Plain Local Board of Education.
If anything, the tweet referencing the Holocaust was far less disturbing than the overwhelming majority of the statements Mr. Derrow made on his now-deleted Twitter account about the pandemic and the safety measures aimed at reining it in.
While the fact that he deleted his account makes it clear that he’d prefer you not look at those tweets now, I looked at almost all of them, and what they revealed was disturbing. They’d be disturbing coming from almost anyone, but they were particularly disturbing coming from a person entrusted by the community to see to the health and well-being of our children.
The list of people Mr. Derrow followed was comprised of a who’s-who of charlatans, frauds, and pandemic deniers:
- He approvingly retweeted those who promote the false idea that natural immunity through infection is preferable to getting the covid vaccine;
- He followed and retweeted a doctor who has gained notoriety by saying that experts should not criticize medical quackery which, at a time when people are injecting bleach and taking livestock dewormer is a profoundly irresponsible stance;
- He approvingly retweeted people who as recently as this morning were online defending the use of livestock dewormer;
- He himself minimized the risk COVID presents to children and dismissed medical and scientific expertise which has conclusively established that risk;
- Most disturbingly, he followed and routinely retweeted full-on, unapologetic anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists including the disgraced former New York Times columnist Alex Berenson, whose lies are so toxic that he’s gotten himself permanently banned from social media accounts and had a feature written about him in Atlantic Monthly referring to him as “The Pandemic’s Wrongest Man;” and
- Finally, in one of his last tweets before deleting his account, Mr. Derrow opined that it was irresponsible for the FDA to give full approval to the Pfizer vaccine which has saved countless lives.
This is the expertise on which Mr. Derrow relies when he walks into these meetings and decides our schools’ policies.
And the expertise he rejects? The CDC. The FDA. The Ohio Department of Health. The American Academy of Pediatrics, whom he frequently attacked. He has rejected the critical mass of medical and public health expertise which has overwhelmingly counseled vaccination and mask mandates in schools which are full of vulnerable children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
It is not a requirement of any member of the board of education to be a public health expert. But when one does not possess said expertise — and there is absolutely nothing in Mr. Derrow’s background or experience which makes him anything approaching an authority on these matters — one is in no position to second guess the actual experts. One is especially ill-positioned to do so when one is so clearly enthralled with the frauds and purveyors of misinformation with whom Mr. Derrow is enthralled.
In offering his apology for his Holocaust tweet, Mr. Derrow said “We all love our kids and want them to be safe and healthy.” In light of his obvious allegiance to the most dubious pandemic phonies and flimflammers, those words could not possibly ring more hollow.
Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Mr. Derrow’s activity on social media — not just one tweet, but the the entirety of his activity there — showed us who he is. It showed us that he is singularly unfit to make decisions regarding the health and safety of the children of New Albany. And I hereby formally request his resignation.
I used the terms “charlatans,” “frauds” and “phonies and flimflammers,” because I needed some G-rated equivalents to “bullshit artists” since it was a school board meeting. I was pretty happy I got to use “flimflammers.”
Sadly, the board did not remove Mr. Masks-are-the-Holocaust but they did publicly censure him. He then spoke and said he was “intemperate and uncivil” but cited his “passion” and his “deep concern for the burden we have unnecessarily placed on children” as the reason for him basically going anti-vaxxer on his now-deleted Twitter account. He then thanked the unhinged people who came in and defended him as a victim of “cancel culture” and got a little dig in about how bad masks are for kids. He had a real Colonel Jessup, “you need me on that wall” energy about him. He really doesn’t give a shit.
But then the meeting changed. The Superintendent — who is not a voting board member and who is not elected — spoke for like an hour, making a strong data-based case for a mask mandate. At the end of his comments he proposed a resolution for a mask mandate to begin next week and last for three weeks which, based on current data, is when the Delta Variant is supposed to peak in central Ohio (and, not coincidentally, is when the next board meeting is scheduled).
And then, against all expectations, the board approved it.
Best part number one: just before the vote, Mr. masks-are-the-Holocaust gave another defiant “I’m right, you’re wrong, masks are destructive and terrible” speech but then, in the end, caved and voted with the majority. The dude can’t take any more heat so he got out of the kitchen, I suppose. Even if he left the kitchen in a rather loud and bitchy fashion.
Best part number two: the medieval types who came to the meeting to yell at me about my article and bleat about “mah freedoms” had left already to watch the Ohio State-Minnesota game by the time the board put the new mask mandate up for a vote. Which means that they were probably pretty surprised when they logged on this morning and found that they have to comply with a mask mandate. Can’t wait for my inbox to light up.
Anyway, I learned through all of this that the city council scenes in “Parks and Rec” are, actually, a documentary but that democracy sometimes works and that dragging people’s asses works on occasion as well. And while I may not be very good at the hard work of creating democratic consensus, I’m pretty useful as far as blunt instruments go and I’m an expert at dragging people’s asses, so I was happy to do my part.