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“I’m not Resigning”
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
21-01-27

UPSD board member's retweet leads to complaints, petition

 

            The social media activity of one school board member will again be discussed during Thursday's school board workshop meeting. Raeann Hofkin's Jan. 21 retweet of a post involving Dr. Rachel Levine, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health, has created numerous public calls for action, according to a board member.

            "The issue will be discussed," according to a text from the member who requested anonymity.

            An online petition started by an Upper Perkiomen graduate calls on the board to condemn Hofkin's act and pressure the members to force her to resign. The document – initiated by Jennifer Schlosberg, a rabbi living in northern New Jersey – has been signed by more than 3,900 people as of Wednesday afternoon. According to Schlosberg, hate speech should not be tolerated, especially when it comes from a leader making decisions on students.

            Don't expect Hofkin to succumb to the pressure. In June, when the board removed her as president for a controversial Facebook post involving Levine, she remained defiant. 

            "I'm not resigning," Hofkin wrote in a text message received Wednesday morning.

            Board President Melanie Cunningham confirmed that she would be providing a statement on the issue during the meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. and hosted on Zoom.

            "So tune in," she wrote in an email message received over the weekend.

            Emails seeking comment on the retweet were sent to eight of the nine board members. Cunningham delivered the only response.

            Hofkin reacted to a tweet that featured photos of Levine and Kayleigh McEnany, the last press secretary for former President Donald Trump. "The face of America is going from this to this. God help us," reads the message originally posted by FortWorthPlayboy.

            Levine was recently nominated by President Joseph Biden to serve as assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The pediatrician could become the first openly transgender person confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

            Schlosberg, a 1998 graduate of the high school, started the petition on Jan. 21. The rabbi at the Glen Rock Jewish Center in Glen Rock, N.J., argues on https://plataformawww.change.org that Hofkin's post is discriminatory to people who identify as transgender, condones the mistreatment and bullying of individuals who are transgender and conveys the message that appearance – not character or credentials – is what counts.

            "We all have to watch what we say as leaders," said Schlosberg, who grew up in Marlborough Township.

            An unnamed school board member reported receiving numerous calls, texts and messages from residents regarding Hofkin's Twitter activity.

            "Lots of people are outraged," the member wrote in a text message. "I can't believe we're right back here."

             According to Schlosberg, a decision by the board to "turn a blind eye" to Hofkin's actions would, in effect, condone her behavior. The rabbi claimed the member, in response to learning that some were organizing against her post, sent a subsequent tweet that included the phrases "free speech," and "see you next week."

            Hofkin locked her Twitter account on Friday, Jan. 22.

            "If she has the free speech rights to say those things, then we have the same rights to say she should resign from the school board," Schlosberg said.

            In June, the members voted to remove Hofkin from her role as board president for a Facebook post regarding Levine. The board also approved a measure condemning her actions related to the post, which included a photo of the health official and the words, "Spoken like a true dicktator [sic]."

            According to Schlosberg, the emergence of a pattern in Hofkin's behavior motivated her to act.  She said that if the Twitter incident was a "one and done," diversity training and a request for the member to be more responsible toward others online might be an adequate response.

            "Even though I don't have a vote in that community, I am working to create energy and draw attention to the issue for those who live there and are unaware of the situation," Schlosberg said. "Sadly, there remains a significant amount of racial inequality, racism, antisemitism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia still engrained in that community. I want more for our children."

            The other eight school board members can't dismiss Hokfin for the content of her speech. According to Melissa Bevan Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania News Media Association, members don't have the authority to remove each other from the board. She said any action by a government agency penalizing speech on the basis of its content, even when it is offensive, would create an issue related to the First Amendment.

            "The answer to that issue is not to limit speech," Melewsky said Wednesday morning. "The proper response is more speech."


 

 

 

 

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