A strong-willed teen takes on a school board president in the suburban Detroit district where she graduated in May.
Kendall Ash, fresh out of Northville High and heading to the University of Michigan, criticizes Matthew Wilk in an online petition citing social media activities that "prove his ignorance regarding the pandemic and the precautions that should be taken in schools to minimize the spread of the virus." Her change.org appeal calling for his resignation draws over 4,000 backers since Saturday.
► Update: The school board heard from parents and students Monday night during a specially scheduled Zoom meeting. No action was taken, WXYZ reports. Trustees meet online again Tuesday night.
In her digital petition, Ash cites examples of offensive posts and adds:
By ignoring facts and advice from health experts, Wilk is putting students, school staff, and the community in danger. Someone who denies the severity and existence of the Coronavirus should not be in charge or even involved in making decisions regarding it.
In order to ensure informed decision making on the part of Northville’s Board of Education, Matthew Wilk must resign as president.
Eight years on board
Wilk is a 47-year-old Brighton banker who grew up in Sterling Heights, graduated from U-M in 1994, added a law degree there in 1997 and joined the seven-member suburban school board in 2012.
The new alumna's call to action, along with Facebook comments from Northville parents and teachers, object to these social media posts by Wilk:
Last Saturday, he shared a conservative site's Facebook post questioning "falsified statistics" and asking why there aren't video diaries of people dying from Covid-19.
When Carolyn Collins of Northville objected to Wilk’s repost, he replied: "How about we allow schools to reopen and Grandma can take the extreme precautions? She can wear a spacesuit when she 'needs' to go out and shop, and the rest of the world can go about their lives, instead of shutting everything down because she might get sick. It would be pretty selfish of Grandma to have everyone else take the burden of her risk."
He retweeted a July 6 tweet by conservative commentator Alex Berenson, who said: "Requiring masks causes #Covid spikes! Correlation! Science! SCIENCE I SAY!" (That's the last of four Wilk retweets in a week from Berenson, described on Monday by The New York Times' media columniust as a "Fox News figure ... [who] pumps tirades against lockdowns, school closings and even masks into the central conversation on Twitter.")
He shared a photo of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last spring with an article excerpt questioning stay-home orders by "these obnoxious Karens ... delighted by the Chinese Bat Biter grippe and the opportunity it presents for them to try to impose their arbitrary will upon the rest of us."
In her open call for Wilk's resignation, the Class of 2020 petitioner writes:
I want my friends and siblings to be as safe as possible while they receive their education, which requires informed and strategic leadership from the Board of Education. With Matthew Wilk as president, such leadership is impossible.
In a weekend letter to district Superintendent Mary Kay Gallagher, the mother of an eighth-grader and incoming high school freshman denounced Wilk's "ignorant rantings on social media." The Northville parent, Gouri Roach, added: "I am calling on the school district and every board member ... to demand his resignation."
The board leader responds in a statement quoted by The Detroit News:
"Covid has been catastrophic and we have to make sure that we address it in the best way possible."
He said his earlier opinions were his own and not the board's, and that it was imperative for the school system to consider all viewpoints, "not just the loudest or the most active on social media."
Rising in his defense Monday morning are Bob Cushman and 10 other members of the Northville Republicans Club, where Wilk also is president.
"Matthew Wilk is a True Patriot, a great father, a good husband and a selfless donator of his time and talents to the Northville Public School System," Cushman posts with the slide at left. He says critics "are demanding that he be removed from office for having the audacity to counter the hysteria narrative around Covid," and adds: "Flood social media ... with messages of support. Let’s get the truth out!'
These are among online voices on the other side:
"I am a NPS paraprofessional working in elementary school. ... I'm beyond discouraged that a member of the group that makes so many decisions for myself and colleagues feels this way." -- Tam Notorianni
"Integrity and accountability is a huge part of being a community leader. ... Managing the pandemics we are dealing with right now needs to be handled sensitively so that we can put plans and policies in place that appropriately care for all of the people in our community. ... [He is] not the kind of person I want making decisions for our community." -- Lisa McIntyre
"He is a Covid-19 denier. He is a danger to the health and safety of all students still attending Northville Pubic Schools and teachers teaching at Northville Public Schools." -- Alyssa Osterhoff
"If you care about how Northville Public Schools responds to the pandemic and hope that they use actual science and compassion toward students and staff, I urge you to sign this petition. We need to send a message to NPS that we do not tolerate anti-science in our schools." -- Karen Kmieciak
"What an absolute disgrace." -- Jake McClory