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School Board Member’s ‘Inflammatory’ Post About George Floyd Leads To Censure, Potential Recall

Former Shawano Civics Teacher's Statement Led Board To Unanimously Call For Resignation

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Madison resident Lincoln Rust is one of the artists working on a giant mural depicting George Floyd and Malcolm X that covers the boarded-up windows of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum on the capitol square.
Madison resident Lincoln Rust is one of the artists working on a giant mural depicting George Floyd and Malcolm X that covers the boarded-up windows of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum on the capitol square. Shawn Johnson/WPR

A group of citizens are planning to initiate the process of recalling a Shawano School Board member whose crass comments about the death of George Floyd led the board to censure him and call for his resignation.

Mart Grams was a longtime civics teacher in the district. On Saturday, he posted on his personal Facebook account, “You know George Floyd is drug free for 2 months,” referring to the Minneapolis man who was killed on May 25 when a police officer knelt on the back of his neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd’s death inspired a nationwide protest movement against police brutality and racial injustice, including a protest in Shawano that drew hundreds of people.

Shawano School Board Vice President Michael Sleeper said a group of citizens not connected with the school board are forming a plan to recall Grams, whose term would otherwise expire in 2022.

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WBAY-TV reported that Grams wrote to them in an email that the statement was “a joke, period.” Grams responded to WPR’s phone and email interview requests with an email that said, “No comment!”

At a special board meeting convened on Sunday evening to respond to the statement, Shawano School Board President Tyler Schmidt said he received more than 500 public comments in less than 24 hours after the post.

“It’s no joke,” Schmidt said. “The jokes are over. We need to grow up and learn. … This cannot continue, and Mr. Grams cannot continue to act this way and represent our district.”

The board voted unanimously to formally censure Grams, who did not attend the special meeting.

The resolution said his statement was “irresponsible, inflammatory and racially and socially insensitive” and called for his “immediate and unconditional resignation from the board.”

Sleeper said the board, which does not have the legal authority to remove Grams, acted “unanimously and with conviction” on the censure statement.

“Highly racially insensitive and inappropriate commentary, we believe, does impact our ability to function in the best interest of our community,” Sleeper said. “If we did not react in the manner we did, we believe we would be assumed to be complicit.”

Grams’ post was still up as of Sunday night, but by Monday morning he appeared to have deleted it or made it private.

The former teacher’s social media feeds on Facebook and Twitter are a steady stream of pro-Trump and anti-liberal memes, videos and viewpoints. He also frequently mocks calls for mask-wearing and other measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. On July 10, he shared a story with a headline claiming falsely that “CDC says epidemic is over,” which called masks and social distancing an “occult ritual.”

A day before that, he shared a story about the high death toll from COVID-19 in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts with the comment, “Should have built a wall around these dems.”

In late September, Grams spoke with WPR about his decision to vote in favor of a state resolution aimed at retiring the use of Native American mascots. He said he believed the racial caricatures used as mascots had a negative effect on Native students’ educational attainment. But he also denied that systemic racism existed.

“I don’t believe in institutional racism,” Grams said in that interview. “I believe in individuals who do the wrong thing.”

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