At 4:06 a.m. on Sept. 6, a message appeared on Grant Nichols' Facebook account that sparked a walkout last week at Columbia Heights High School and a visit from Gov. Mark Dayton in support of the school's students. Nichols is a school board member in Columbia Heights. His Facebook post suggested that Muslims are "unsanitary," saying they wash their feet in the sink and touch doorknobs with soiled hands.
Nichols denies writing the message, saying someone at his workplace used his smartphone. Many in the Columbia Heights community aren't buying that explanation — and are insisting that Nichols resign.
At a school board meeting Tuesday night, dozens of students, teachers and residents called for him to step down.
Before the opening gavel fell on last night's meeting, more than 100 people, mostly students and their teachers, marched to district headquarters to demand Nichols' resignation. They carried signs calling the board member a bigot and a liar.
Inside the meeting room, about 40 people took turns addressing the board.
"How dare you preserve your pride at the expense of the pride of our district," Columbia Heights High School vocal music director Alex Jaques said, to applause from the crowd. "This community has spoken. Our children have spoken. Grant Nichols, resign."
Recalling years of admonitions from teachers about the pitfalls of life on the Internet, Amanda Meyer, a senior at Columbia Heights, took Nichols to task for his admitted failure to keep track of his smartphone.
"If you cannot be responsible with your own personal cell phone," she said, "how are we to trust you in being responsible for our information?"
In the more than two hours of public comments, only two speakers took Grant Nichols' side. Gregory Sloat, who ran for Columbia Heights City Council last year, said the school board's failed votes last week to censure or remove Nichols should stand.
"Mr. Nichols is still on the board," Sloat said. "He was voted in by people of the city. I would request him to stay the rest of his term, and at that time, if someone wants to vote him out, they're more than welcome to."
Hours later, after the usual business of curriculum and budget reports, the school board held another vote regarding Nichols: A resolution urging him to resign. It passed, with Nichols himself and board member Ted Landwehr abstaining. But the resolution was non-binding.
After the meeting, Nichols said he will not resign, and still would not say who posted the remarks on his Facebook account. Nichols said he does not agree with the comments in the post.
"Absolutely not," he said. "I totally disagree with that. I'm a big person about embracing diversity."
At the same time, Nichols accused his critics of being unprofessional and putting "fuel on the fire."
Columbia Heights resident Hala Asamarai, who's Muslim, said she's happy that her community — led by young people — roundly denounced the comments on Nichols' Facebook page.
"That's probably the only good thing that came out of this," Asamarai said, "that we really got to see the community of students, teachers and administrators band together."
She said the incident also brought to her attention an empty seat on the Columbia Heights School Board, vacated by a member who moved out of the district.
Asamarai announced yesterday that she's running for that seat, saying it's time to bring some new voices to the table.