UPDATE, September 3, 2PM: I went to the special school board meeting called because of all of this. Derrow was censured. A mask mandate was imposed. Boom.
UPDATE, August 26, 5:05 PM: New Albany School Board member Philip Derrow emailed me late this afternoon telling me that he had deleted a thread of tweets in which he compared anti-COVID mask mandates to the Holocaust. What follows is the email in full:
Dear Mr. Calcaterra,
Thank you for reaching out, and I apologize for the delay in responding as I have been traveling. This pandemic has been hard and has brought us challenges that none of us has ever faced. Passions are running high. While it would appear that you and I do not agree on COVID mask policy in our schools, I am certain we share common ground when it comes to wanting children to be safe and healthy and to have the very best education possible. If you would ever care to meet and discuss ways we can work together to achieve these common goals, I would be grateful for the opportunity to do so.
In addition, I want to thank you for helping me to understand that the tweet I posted referencing the Holocaust was wrong, and so I have deleted it. As a Jew I am keenly aware of the evil reality of the Holocaust. It was a singularly horrific event in human history that should never be compared to anything else.
Here’s to a world where our kids are safe, smart and strong.
New Albany-Plain Local Schools
Board of Education
August 26, 2021, 5:39 AM: As subscribers to my newsletter and readers of my biweekly Columbus Alive column know, for the past two weeks I have been ramping up criticism of the New Albany, Ohio school board. My kids go to school in New Albany and the board’s refusal to impose a mask mandate despite the advice to that effect by the Ohio Department of Health, the CDC, and the overwhelming body of scientific consensus has been beyond frustrating. What’s more, New Albany is an outlier in this regard, as nearly every other school district in Central Ohio has either a full mask mandate or one for younger children who are unable to get vaccinated.
I looked into the matter some more yesterday, trying to figure out why the board made its decision to eschew masks. I was specifically interested in determining whether it was out of fear of, and capitulation to, anti-mask advocates as has happened in many communities or, rather, if anti-mask sentiment was near and dear to the hearts of the board members themselves.
In the process of doing that, I was referred to recent Facebook post of one of the elected members of the school board, a local businessman named Philip Derrow. His post, to say the least, dismissed the idea of masks out of hand and suggested that, at least in his case, the anti-mask sentiment was all his own:
That seemed pretty cavalier to me, so I dug deeper, looking to see if Derrow has posted anything else about masks or vaccines or what have you in public spaces.
On Facebook I found posts, such as this one from June 2020, where he appeared to dismiss the pandemic outright. A month earlier he noted, correctly, that given reporting inconsistencies, excess deaths would be a useful measure of how deadly the pandemic had become. He almost completely dismissed the possibility that there would be a significant rise in excess deaths, however, and in the event, there were over half a million excess deaths in 2020 and have been well over 600,000 since the pandemic began. This was rather troubling because it was exactly that sort of talk, with all of its attendant skepticism of recognized public health authority, that characterized the backlash to public health measures which hamstrung our nation’s response to the pandemic last year. It was especially troubling to see such talk from an elected official in my community.
So I dug deeper. Which is when I found Derrow’s Twitter account.
It may sound odd to say I “found” an elected official’s Twitter account, but it’s an appropriate term here. Derrow lives in New Albany, of course, but the Twitter account listed its holder’s location as Jackson, Wyoming (some quick Googling reveals that he owns a second home in Jackson). It did not list his occupation and he mentioned his profession only occasionally, but it’s clearly him, right down to the identical avatar for each account. I emailed Derrow at his school board email address twice yesterday seeking comment and confirmation, messaged him at the Twitter account, and messaged him via Facebook, but I received no response from the co-founder of the New Albany Center for Civil Discourse and Debate.
Derrow’s Twitter feed is almost exclusively dedicated to posts about COVID and all that surrounds it. He posts under the guise of an informed skeptic, but his skepticism frequently drifts into an air of superiority. It’s an unearned air, however, as his tweets are overwhelmingly misinformed. He sets forth erroneous COVID information here and half-truths there while frequently circling back to the conclusion that everyone else is wrong. While Derrow’s Facebook posts seem to be pro-vaccine and dismissive of masks, there is a good deal on his Twitter account that, while not exactly anti-vaxxer — he claims he is vaccinated — can be said to be anti-vaxxer-adjacent, such as the endorsement of erroneous claims of the inefficacy of the Pfizer vaccine and his opposition to the FDA’s full approval of the vaccine. He likewise spent a great deal of time in the summer of 2020 passing along the erroneous — and dangerous — claim that COVID was no more harmful than the flu. He’s dismissive of the risk that COVID poses to children. The list of those whom he chooses to retweet and follow — including notorious COVID fraud and misinformation source, Alex Berenson — is telling in and of itself.
That’s all pretty bad, but none of it is as bad as a series of tweets he posted 11 days ago in which he compared mask mandates to the Holocaust.
It’s a thread that, at least as of this writing, is pinned to the top of Derrow’s Twitter feed, which shows that he considers it to be significant and well-considered on his part (if the tweets are deleted later I have saved screen caps of the entire thread here). For ease of reading — and so that it cannot be said that I did not provide full context — I’ll set forth the thread, verbatim, as a block of text. The ellipsis represent breaks between individual tweets. I have included a couple of paragraph breaks, also for ease of reading. I have bolded and italicized the most significant passage:
“18 months into the pandemic 16 months of cloth and surgical masks being recommended and then mandated Still not a single properly powered and controlled RCT, anywhere in the world, ever, showing masks “work” . . . It’s even worse for children, who are at statistically near zero risk from Covid, including Delta Yet 10s of millions have been muzzled, deprived of school and social contact, & told they would kill their parents and grandparents if they didn’t sacrifice For the 3rd school year . . .
And then AAP, the largest physician organization ostensibly dedicated to children’s health & well being declaring, from exactly zero evidence That masks don’t harm language & SE development Because it’s never been studied . . . I understand fear of the unknown, in March 2020 I understand parents desperate to protect their children I understand the difficult psychology of risk assessment I understand the Precautionary Principle I understand science, and therefore reject the notion of The Science™ . . .
We know so much more now We know if masks work at all it is marginal, at best We know the vaccines work, imperfectly, & so does convalescent immunity We know scientists & physicians abandoning the principles of scientific & medical integrity has horrific consequences . . .
Our experts and leaders persist in ignoring all we know I won’t assume their motives because it no longer matters They’ve been wrong, consistently A noble lie is still a lie They should be ignored or defied And then replaced . . . And if we are to truly learn from our mistakes these past 18 months Just as Jews after the horrors of the Holocaust We must declare, and implement laws to assure “Never Again” . . .
Never again should we delegate policy authority to those qualified only to provide narrow advice Never again should we willingly sacrifice liberty without objective proof of imminent harm, and an objective restoration plan — in advance . . . Never again should emergency government authority extend beyond 7 days without legislative consent, reconfirmed every 7 days Never again should we blindly follow experts, regardless of the initials after their name, if they don’t provide proof, show their work & admit error . . . Never again should we EVER sacrifice the needs of children to the unfounded fears of adults.”
We have seen such a comparison before, of course. Last May, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene repeatedly used Holocaust comparisons to criticize face-mask mandates that have been enacted amid the coronavirus pandemic. Greene, as almost everyone knows by now, is notorious for her extreme and inflammatory rhetoric, which has led to multiple social media suspensions and a threat with formal Congressional censure. But while Greene’s comparison jibes with a whole host of other extreme views on her part, Derrow’s invocation of the comparison is considerably more puzzling given that he himself is Jewish.
Regardless of the speaker, however, comparisons such as Greene’s, and now Derrow’s, are deeply, deeply ignorant and patently offensive for obvious reasons. And regardless of Philip Derrow’s considerable confidence about all things COVID, his offensiveness and his ignorance make him profoundly ill-suited for the public office with which he has been entrusted.
We are better than this, New Albany. Our community is too strong, too educated, and too caring to retain an ignorant, irresponsible, and bomb-throwing man like Philip Derrow in an office of trust and responsibility. If the New Albany Board of Education will take no acton against him, then rest assured, the city’s voters will.