It was a puzzle at first, why so many people were in the audience at a seemingly routing meeting of the Spring-Ford Area School Board last night.
I'm not too bright, but eventually I figured out why they were there to speak at the end of the meeting.
It was about Kevin Bean.
He's the teacher who, until recently, had a side job as a professional wrestler playing a "heel" called "Blitzkreig," who, videos showed, waved a German flag with the iron cross, gave the Nazi salute and shouted "sieg heil!" before matches.
But he is not that person in real life, said the majority of the 29 people who spoke Monday night, several of whom called him a "gentle giant."
And, in fact, he is no longer that character either.
The second speaker Monday night was Zach Laurie, president of the Spring-Ford Education Association, who read a statement from Bean.
In his statement, Bean said he will no longer play the character of Blitzkreig and that, for the moment at least, he will no longer wrestle.
He said during his years wrestling, he had portrayed many characters, most recently as a "bad guy."
"The sensationalized character the media has accused me of being is misleading. I do not believe in or support the philosophies of antisemitism or hatred in any way," Bean wrote in his statement.
Bean, wrestling as Blitzkreig during a match in Quakertown,
is seen in this video screen-grab giving the Nazi salute.
"I am truly remorseful for the pain and discomfort this character has brought people. for that was never my intent."
Bean said in his statement that "this character no longer exists, nor will he re-appear at any point in the future."
Bean's statement said he is currently not wrestling and "wrestling is not something I plan to discuss in the classroom or at any time in a school setting."
Earlier this month, the district announced that its investigation of Bean's activities as a wrestler had violated no district policies and that he would not be disciplined and would remain as a teacher.
It was evident, from those who spoke on his behalf, that Bean has touched many lives in his 14 years with Spring-Ford.
|Former Kevin Bean student Colin Sanford.|
Speaker after speaker lined up to speak about how Bean had helped their child; what an excellent teacher he is, and how much he cares.
Most speakers were parents, although some were former students themselves, including Colin Sanford, who talked about how Bean had helped him when Sanford's father died suddenly while he was in sixth grade.
"I made more friends in Mr. Bean's classsroom than in all four years of high school," Sanford told the board.
Diana Lachenmayer read a letter from her daughter Lindsay who wrote that Bean had helped her when she was being teased about her weight and inspired her to have self-confidence and to pursue a career in education.
Christine Mason said her son was in Bean's class during "a difficult divorce" and Bean helped her son with his depression and mentored him.
Many stressed his inclusiveness, and his ability to ensure that everyone in his classroom participates and is respected. They repeated that he was playing a character, like an actor in a movie and many said "wrestling is not real."
|Rachel Slosberg said "all we saw was a German bad guy."|
Rachel Slosberg said her son had experienced antisemitism and it was Bean who mentored her son and helped him through it.
"We went to see his show and all we saw was a German bad guy," she said.
But Jewish opinion was not unanimous Monday night and Andrew Rosabloom said he is "disappointed with the investigation" and the outcome.
Rosabloom said Bean had "failed to set a good example" for students with his character, and "the fact that he found it appropriate to say 'sieg heil' at an event where there were children present is reprehensible."
"He says those are not his beliefs, but he made a conscious choice to play that character," Rosabloom said.
Other speakers agreed and said while they did not want to see Bean fired, they do want to have their concerns addressed more thoroughly by the school district and to use the situation as an opportunity for empathy and dialogue.
|Beth Eldridge said the images of Bean her daughter |
saw "broke her heart."
They said those who did not have Bean as a teacher might not understand that his character and real life person are separate.
Beth Eldridge of Limerick said her 10th grade daughter did not have and does not know Bean and was disturbed by the images she saw of his character.
"Please understand how these images affect children of color. It broke her heart," Eldrige said.
She added that her daughter has experienced "a huge uptick" in racial epithets being used against her since the issue became public.
One speaker noted that most of those who spoke in Bean's defense were not minorities and may not understand what it's like to go to school in a place where nearly all teachers and nearly 85 percent of the students are white.
She also said that some parents upset by Bean's actions did not come to speak Monday because they feared retaliation against their children who are students in Spring-Ford.
|Karisma Gilmore said hopefully a dialogue on diversity |
has been prompted by the situation.
Korlu Evaile said her family moved to the area because of the schools, and said they are indeed excellent.
She said she does not know Bean and does not judge him, but that the situation raised issues of race and she has found "whenever race comes up, people retreat to their respective corners."
She said "before this happened, I was feeling safe, but this is very unsettling" and pointed out "where are the teachers who look like my daughters?"
Karisma Gilmore said she is pleased to see so many people defend Bean and say he is a good person, adding "it's because he's such a good teacher that some of us are disappointed."
She added "I'm actually happy something like this happened because now we can have a dialogue. I hope we can all leave here trying to understand the other side."
Schools Superintendent David Goodin said the controversy around Bean's activities were "a trying time, but it has opened up a dialogue about diversity and moved issues of race and diversity t the forefront."
He said his administration has "made every attempt" to diversify the staff and that no parent should fear retaliation against a student by the staff because a parent speaks out.
School Board President Thomas DeBello thanked all the parents for speaking their mind and encouraged more dialogue and suggestions.
And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting"
Wrestling Teacher Defended, Diversity Discussed