Dayton: School board member should quit over post about Muslims

Students staged a protest.
Sherouk Mohamed, from right, Karim Muse and Khadra Mohamed were among hundreds of students who walked out of Columbia Heights High School Wednesday morning. The students left class for about 45 minutes to protest a recent Facebook comment on a school board member's account.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii | The Star Tribune via AP

Updated 3:53 p.m. | Posted 10:49 a.m.

Gov. Mark Dayton is calling on Columbia Heights School Board Member Grant Nichols to step down over comments appearing on Nichols' Facebook page that denigrated Muslims.

After speaking to students Friday at Columbia Heights High School, Dayton said Nichols should be forced to resign. The governor said news reports of the comments moved him to visit the school.

MPR News is Member Supported

What does that mean? The news, analysis and community conversation found here is funded by donations from individuals. Make a gift of any amount today to support this resource for everyone.

Comments raised concern.
Concerns have been raised over a Facebook comment from the account of a Columbia Heights school board member. The comment has since been deleted.

A Sept. 6 comment on Nichols' Facebook account, which has since been deleted, disparaged the bathroom habits of Muslim people, calling them "unsanitary." Nichols has denied writing the comment. He has said he suspected someone at his workplace used his phone to write the Facebook post. He's also said he disagreed with the content of the comment.

However, Columbia Heights School Board Chair John Larkin has said Nichols told him he had written the post. Nichols has not responded to interview requests.

Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Dayton said there's no room for bigotry, especially in an educational setting. "There's no place for that anywhere in Minnesota, but certainly not for a leader of a school district," Dayton said.

Despite his strong feelings on the matter, Dayton said it's up to local officials to decide. School leaders declined to comment on Dayton's visit or his remarks.

Columbia Heights school board members debated the fate of Nichols during a special meeting Tuesday night. Motions to remove and censure Nichols, who did not attend the meeting, fell one vote short of the required four. Board Member Ted Landwehr, who opposed the sanctions, read a statement from Nichols, in which he stuck to his claim about not writing the comment.

"While this is by no means an excuse for my negligence," the statement read, "knowing the cause will help me guard against future mistakes with my phone."

The next day, hundreds of Columbia Heights students walked out of class for about 45 minutes to protest the comments on Nichols' account. The students were also unhappy that the school board failed to censure or remove Nichols at its meeting Tuesday night.

Dayton on Friday said he told students he was proud of their peaceful protest.

"They deserve to be so proud of themselves for what they did to stand up and peacefully protest, walk out and come back," the governor told reporters. "All of the adults and teachers and the others who stood with them deserve enormous credit."