Last August the New Albany, Ohio school board refused to impose a mask mandate. Given that my kids go to New Albany schools this, quite understandably, bugged me. I usually don’t attend school board meetings but upon reviewing the video of the most recent one, it became pretty clear that school board member Philip Derrow was the guy quarterbacking the misguided strategy and his arguments, such as they were, were the ones that had carried the day. In light of that I decided to try to figure out who this Derrow guy was and what he was all about.
When I began looking into Derrow I found his Twitter account — an account few people knew about — and discovered that it contained all manner of COVID misinformation, conspiracy theory-level anti-vaccination and anti-mask comments, approving citations to toxic charlatans and frauds such as Alex Berenson, and most odiously of all, tweets comparing mask mandates to the Holocaust.
I wrote about all of that, both at this website and for Columbus Alive. My articles about Derrow created a stir in New Albany. An emergency school board meeting was held during which people demanded his resignation. He did not resign, but he was censured, after which he offered a weak apology. At the end of that meeting the school board reversed course and imposed a mask mandate for the fall semester. Derrow deleted his Twitter account.
Just before school resumed following Winter Break, however, the board lifted the mask mandate making them optional once again. This was crazy for a number of reasons, but chief among them was the fact that the beginning of school in January coincided with the Omicron surge which sent COVID caseloads up to unprecedented highs. Ohio was particularly hard-hit: we were seeing over 27,000 new COVID cases a day as recently as a week ago. This was not terribly surprising given that, thanks to Republican “leadership,” our state is one of the least vaccinated in the country. Suffice it to say, New Albany schools’ position on masks was and remains an extreme outlier. This time, however, the board has held firm.
That did not stop people around here from being angry at the school board, of course. I sent a fire and brimstone email to the school board but got no reply. Many other parents I know in New Albany did the same and were, likewise, ignored.
I do know one person who sent an email which elicited a response, however. It’s a 17 year-old girl who just so happens to be a close friend of my daughter’s. I am withholding her name because she’s a minor, but I have seen the email. And now I have seen the response. It’s from none other than Phil Derrow and, yes, friends, Mr. Derrow is back on his bullshit.
It was a reply-all email which included the other board members but Derrow made it clear at the beginning that he was speaking for himself:
“Dear Ms. _____, et al,
“Thank you for writing to share your concerns. I appreciate your passion in this matter and respect your right to express your views.
“Since you specifically included me in your message, I am responding as an individual and not for the Board of Education overall.”
At that point Derrow jumped right in, condescendingly lecturing the writer of the email about what science is and what science is not. In so doing he radically misstates the results of recent research on the efficacy of masks to prevent the transmission of COVID, saying “Decades of RCTs done with masks for the control of airborne respiratory viruses failed to demonstrate statistically significant benefit from them.”
That’s patently false, of course. The research to which he specifically referred in his email — a large, randomized trial led by researchers at Stanford Medicine and Yale University — found that wearing a surgical face mask over the mouth and nose is an effective way to reduce the occurrence of COVID-19 in community settings. Though it concluded that cloth masks’ prevention of infection compared to unmasked people was not statistically significant, the authors of the study did say that cloth masks reduced the overall likelihood of experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness during the study period. The study did not touch on the efficacy of K95/N95 masks, but based on everything else known about them, it’s impossible to conclude that those wouldn’t be even better than surgical masks.
Derrow, however, feels differently about it. So differently that he is writing 17 year-old girls to tell them that the study concludes the exact opposite of what its researchers say it did. If you want to take his word for it, hey, that’s your right. Personally I’ll go with the Stanford and Yale researchers. Mostly because actual researchers — as opposed to Derrow, who made his considerable fortune by inheriting his dad’s industrial pump business and who has no scientific background whatsoever — do not tend to discount the studies they simply don’t like while presuming that matters which have not yet been studied would, inevitably, be settled in their favor. And yep, he spends a lot of time doing that in the email as well.
I’m less interested in his blinkered view of science, however, than I am in the fact that he’s a liar. From the email:
“Lastly, regarding your claim that I compared wearing masks to the Holocaust; that claim is false.”
If you’re gonna lie, lie big I guess, but know that I spent a lot of time looking at Phil Derrow’s gross, now-deleted Twitter account and no, I did not throw away those receipts.
Last August Derrow wrote a multi-tweet thread that began with an emotional lament about mask mandates and the lack of studies supporting their efficacy and then explicitly compared them to “the horrors of the Holocaust”:
Derrow lectures the girl who wrote the email about how he himself is a Jew who has “studied the Holocaust for years,” and thus he himself would never make such a comparison, even though he did exactly that.
If he had actually studied the Holocaust, however, he’d know that “Never Again” was derived from a 1927 epic poem, “Masada,” by Yitzhak Lamdanwas. He’d know that it was a slogan used by survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp upon their liberation. He’d know that it was adopted as a slogan by Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League. He’d know that it appears on many Holocaust memorials and continues to be righteously repeated to this day. He’d know that “Never Again” has been appropriated as a political slogan for other causes, some worthy, some spurious, but that when it is so appropriated it is at the very least implicitly invoking the Holocaust. Derrow, of course, did more than implicitly invoke it, however. He made the explicit comparison that he is now ridiculously denying he made.
But it gets better!
Ever seen that meme which mocks those sports talk shows on which the hosts will argue about absolutely ANYTHING in order to create a controversy, even if it means taking the most ridiculous, contrary opinions?
As they say, life imitates art. Here’s Derrow in the email to the girl, right after he wrote the Holocaust “has no equal” and that “I never said otherwise”:
“The lessons of the Holocaust, however, are more far reaching and unquestionably include the danger of allowing government — any government— to amass unchecked centralized “emergency” powers to control and restrict the citizenry, the “othering” of fellow citizens, and the recruitment and complicity of average citizens in exercising those powers. In communities around U.S. and the world, the unmasked and non-vaccinated and those who support their right to do so are often viewed as today’s untermensch who, in some countries (even some heretofore democratic ones) are being arrested and detained.
“You can’t prevent the horrors of unchecked power if you don’t prevent the ability to amass that power in the first place, even during a pandemic. Justifying such power as “for your safety” has been the propaganda of tyrants throughout history.”
But nah, he’s not comparing the pandemic response to the Holocaust, not one bit. I mean, I see references to the “untermensch” in government pamphlets promoting vaccines and urging the wearing of masks CONSTANTLY! Don’t you?
He goes on:
“We are now left with finding answers to the following questions:
- How, in a democratic society, was so much power amassed by such a few?
- How was that power retained?
- How and why did government authorities label, blame, and segregate entire groups of fellow citizens as the cause of harm to others despite both weak evidence and, more importantly, millennia of human history demonstrating the profound danger of such policies?
- Why were children, who were at the least risk to themselves or others, saddled with the greatest burdens?
- Why did average citizens, including experts, willingly go along?
- What can be done to assure it Never Again occurs?
“These are all important questions that you and your generation will ultimately have to answer. I trust you will do so with good care.”
With that we are way, way past a response to an email from a high school senior about the decisions of the school board and we are deep into the ravings of an anti-government crackpot who, for whatever reasons, chose to become an elected official.
An elected official who, despite already being censured for being a mendacious embarrassment to our community, continues to be a mendacious embarrassment. An elected official who continues to be beholden to pandemic misinformation and its purveyors. An elected official who utterly lacks perspective when it comes to the very matters in front of him. An elected official who, ostensibly anyway, cares about the education of children but who turns the condescension all the way up to 11 when speaking to a high school student in a manner that is both oblivious of perspective and insulting to the intelligence of everyone involved.
Philip Derrow is up for reelection in the fall of 2023. Thank God I will no longer have kids in the schools he governs by then.