It took less than 15 minutes Sunday for the other eight members of the Shawano School Board to vote for a resolution censuring fellow board member Mart Grams for comments he made regarding the death of Black man George Floyd.
Grams posted on his Facebook page: “You know George Floyd has been drug free for 2 months.” Floyd died after having a knee pressed to his neck by ex-officer Derek Chauvin for seven minutes, 46 seconds, prompting protests and riots around the United States and calls to defund the police and more.
Grams’ comment was reposted to the Facebook page “Shawano, Let’s Talk About It” Saturday night by Sarah Hill White, who stated she wanted to see the matter taken up by the school board at its next meeting.
The Shawano School District posted on its main Facebook page “Shawano Schools” Sunday morning: “Mr. Grams is speaking as an individual and does not represent the other members of the Shawano School Board, the Board as a whole, or for the school district staff. His comments do not reflect the values of the Board, the District, or the community. Mr. Grams is an elected official. Under Wisconsin law, the Board does not have authority to remove or to discipline a member of the Board. An elected school board member may be removed through the electoral process, including through recall, but not by action of the school board.”
There are only three ways a board member can be removed from the board, according to state law — a resignation tendered by the board member, a decision by a judge, or a recall campaign initiated by district residents.
The resolution is recommending Grams “tender his immediate and unconditional resignation” from the school board, claiming that Grams has compromised his ability to serve the public as a board member. It further stated that Grams’ comments were “irresponsible, inflammatory and racially and socially insensitive” and that the board “disavows” any commentary Grams has made regarding Floyd and the events that have sprung up since the man’s death.
Board president Tyler Schmidt proposed the resolution, noting that the board members had received over “500 public comments and numerous emails and complaints” Sunday regarding Grams’ conduct and demanding that he be removed from the board. Schmidt, in a prepared statement, said those comments have come from “all over the world.”
“As board members, everything we say and do reflects on the board and the school district,” Schmidt said. “Given the nature of Mr. Grams’ statement, it is my opinion as the board president that it is imporant for the board to have an opportunity as a collective body to make known its position and to do so as soon as possible.”
The only other board member to comment on Grams’ behavior was Michael Sleeper, who claimed that Grams’ Facebook post has tarnished the school district’s reputation.
“One point that concerns me to no end is the hard, hard work that our staff and volunteer committees have been undertaking these past months to reinvigorate and reenergize the district, to work to make a more positive school system, to better the outcomes for our students, to have a positive working environment for our staff, this kind of thing puts those efforts in jeopardy,” Sleeper said.
He further expressed concern that what has happened will prompt people to look elsewhere for their children’s education instead of choosing Shawano.
Schmidt claimed that the resolution is not meant as a personal attack on Grams or abridging First Amendment rights to free speech. However, Schmidt expressed fear for his safety, the safety of the other board members and their families in light of the public outrage.
“I do not think that Mart understands the harm that he has caused and put the rest of the board — and each of us individually and our families’ safety — at risk,” Schmidt said. “I do not say that lightly. It is not a time to screw around with this kind of stuff. It is no joke.”
Schmidt said Grams’ actions are tearing the district apart “in a mere 20 hours.”
“I have received emails and phone calls from around the world,” Schmidt said. “They’re not nice. We’re being portrayed by these comments that the entire board is this way. That is absolutely not fair to group us as that.”
The Shawano Leader sent a reporter to attend the board meeting in person but was denied admission by the board’s administrative assistant, Lori Sherman, who said that, with the board members and attorneys in attendance, no one else could be allowed to attend without there being more than 10 people in the room. The Leader obtained its information from a livestream of the meeting on YouTube.