Nazi salute, insults hurled at chaotic Birmingham schools meeting over mask mandate

Aug 19, 2021 at 1:33 pm
click to enlarge Screenshot of of a Birmingham Board of Education meeting in which parent Nicole Humphrey said she's removing her daughter from school because the mask mandate. - Birmingham Public Schools
Birmingham Public Schools
Screenshot of of a Birmingham Board of Education meeting in which parent Nicole Humphrey said she's removing her daughter from school because the mask mandate.

Police are investigating a man who flashed a Nazi salute and chanted “Heil Hitler” during a raucous Birmingham Board of Education meeting over a mask mandate for students.

Unruly anti-maskers booed and hurled insults at board members and speakers, including a high school student, who spoke in favor of face coverings during the meeting Wednesday evening.

The anti-maskers spewed falsehoods about COVID-19, telling board members that masks are dangerous and that children aren't at risk of spreading the virus, despite a plethora of evidence to the contrary. Several parents said they're removing their children from school because of the mandate.

The remarks came after the board and superintendent announced that students, staff, and teachers will be required to wear masks indoors for the start of the school year.

Parents packed two rooms at the school, and dozens were not wearing masks.

While a Black woman and Jewish woman were addressing the board about their support for the mask policy, a man in the audience flashed the Nazi salute and repeated “Heil Hitler.” Two men behind him also uttered the phrase.

Police questioned the man during the meeting and are investigating whether he committed a crime.

Superintendent Embekka Roberson notified parents of the Nazi salute in a letter Wednesday and said the district has no tolerance for hate.

“Birmingham Public Schools emphatically denounces and will not tolerate any act of racism, disrespect, violence, and/or inequitable treatment of any person, including actions and statements made at Board of Education meetings. It is in situations when people feel strongly about a matter, and emotions run high, that we most need to model appropriate behaviors for our students,” Roberson wrote. “Last night’s meeting did not consistently display the behaviors that we expect from our students and community.”

During the meeting, some parents compared masks to child abuse.

Nicole Humphrey said she’s removing her daughter from school because masks make her uncomfortable.

“Hearing that the only way she can attend in-person learning is by wearing a mask is unconscionable,” she told the board. “It is not going to happen. It is like asking us to knowingly send her to a place that is abusing her and being like, ‘Oh well.’ … It’s not Ok.”

Another parent said God didn’t intend for people to wear masks, which she falsely claimed are “ineffective” and increase the risk of cancer.

“Our children will never see the freedoms we enjoyed growing up,” she said. “They are not even free to breathe fresh air. If God wanted us to cover our mouth and nose, he would have made us that way.”

Since masks aren’t effective, parent Sarah Flynn said, the school board imposed the mask mandate “to protect yourselves politically.” “COVID poses almost zero risk to children,” Flynn said. “Forced mask mandates for something that has almost zero percent chance of killing them is child abuse.”

During the meeting, Roberson said the mask mandate is intended “to make sure students can attend in person.”

Lori Ajlouny, the board’s president, repeatedly ordered anti-maskers to stop disrupting the meeting and said the mask mandate is a common sense measure to protect children from a highly contagious and dangerous virus.

“We are doing this for the safety of our children,” she said. “I’m not fond of wearing masks, but I’m going to do what’s best for the children.”

Health experts say masks are critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19 in schools. On Sunday, Francis Collins, the director of the National Institute of Health, warned about a sharp increase in the number of pediatric cases from the more powerful "Delta" variant of the virus that causes COVID-19.

On Tuesday, a Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would bar school districts from requiring students to wear masks.

On Thursday, two state lawmakers expressed disgust over the Nazi salute.

“I am shocked and appalled to see the use of racist, Nazi language and imagery in our community, particularly by parents attending a school board meeting. Let me be clear: racism, anti-Semitism, and any other forms of bigotry and hate have no room in our discourse or our community, and I forcefully condemn the use of this phrase and gesture at yesterday’s Board of Education meeting,” Rep. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham, said. “For the last 18 months, our state, country, and world have suffered a collective trauma. But the use of Nazi phrases and gestures is beyond the pale in any context; it disrespects the memory of those murdered in the Holocaust and dishonors the values of our community. Actions such as these must be forced out from our society as every level, and we must resume engaging with each other in the spirit of understanding, kindness, and mutual respect – themes which form the core of the values taught within BPS."

State Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said, “The Holocaust was the systematic state-sponsored persecution and annihilation of European Jews and others. As someone with family members who suffered heinous and violent deaths at the hands of Nazis, I can assure this BPS community member that the Holocaust is not a school board meeting."

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