UPDATE: Central Alberta school trustee resigns following offensive tweets

EDMONTON – James Andre, a new public school trustee for the Battle River School Division, resigned Tuesday morning, following criticism about his Twitter comments.

In a special meeting on Tuesday morning, the Battle River School Division Board of Trustees unanimously accepted Andre’s resignation.

In a news release, the BRSD Board of Trustees said it “would like to thank all those who took the time to express their thoughts and concerns on this issue. The experience has provided a vivid demonstration of the value that our local residents, our province and our country places on treating all people with respect, dignity and equity, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, gender or orientation.”

In his resignation letter, dated Nov. 11, Andre said his resignation would take effect immediately.

“I would like to apologize to all the people who voted for me and to the communities I represented. In no way did I intend for any of this to happen, and I can only ask that you support the rest of the board and their decisions as they move forward in their roles as elected officials.”

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Battle River School Board trustee James Andre resigns

Last week, Andrew was under fire for tweets he now describes as inappropriate and offensive.

Of the 82 tweets and retweets Andre posted since joining Twitter in January, a number of them included sexually crude, homophobic as well as racist statements about black, Latino, Asian, and Muslim people.

Many were retweets of @TheFunnyRacist’s posts, a few of which featured comments referencing Jewish people and Auschwitz.

Dr. Kristopher Wells, with the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies, sent a letter to Alberta’s Education Minister – among others – calling for a formal investigation.

“It is with great concern that I call your attention to the racist, sexist, misogynistic, and homophobic tweets and views of Mr. Jim Andre; a newly elected trustee of Battle River School Division,” he wrote.

While Andre’s account has been deleted, Wells has provided Global News with a copy of his tweets and retweets. Here are some of them:

**WARNING: Some may find this material offensive.***

  •  “The real crime of Aushwitz? All those carbon emissions,” retweeted May 19th from @TheFunnyRacist account.
  • “What’s the worst part about owning a Jewish football team? Having to find a whole new team once they hit the showers,” retweeted May 24 from @TheFunnyRacist account.
  • “You get Martin Luther King day off because it’s symbolic of black people not working,” retweeted May 22 from @TheFunnyRacist.
  • “What did 1 muslim say to another at the supermarket? Nothing, they’re ordinary people and shouldn’t be judged. Then the building exploded,” retweeted from @TheFunnyRacist account May 21.
  • “only english at nhl anthems…..bye bye frogs,” sent to another Twitter user May 9.
  • “@TheFunnyRacist why do black people keep chickens in their backyard? To teach their kids how to walk,” he wrote April 16.
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Andre also used the hashtags #sogay and #homo in a tweet he wrote about Justin Bieber on August 15.

Despite the tweets, the school board trustee denies that he’s a racist and claims the tweets – posted before he was elected – do not reflect who he really is, and were intended as a joke.

“Completely sense of humour related, nothing more…now it’s scrutinized because I am elected to represent our school division,” said Andre on Nov. 6.

He admits he didn’t think of the possible repercussion of the tweets, even after deciding to run for the school trustee position.

“Looking back, they’re inappropriate, they’re offensive, and – quite honestly – I should’ve never put them out there.”

After apologizing to the school division, he clarified that his online comments “in no way represent the views of the Battle River School Division.”

Last week, Andre said that he had no plans to resign.

“We consider this extremely offensive behaviour, and we would not allow it from our students or staff …this is very upsetting,” said Battle River School Board Chair Kendall Severson.

“There will be consequences, and an investigation is underway at this time to determine what those consequences will be,” he added. “We are seeking legal advice at this time, and that’s part of the investigation. So that’s where we’re at today.”

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The president of the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) says the reason she hasn’t commented publicly on the tweets is to allow the BRSD time to consider its response to the situation. However, Jacquie Hansen released a short written statement on the ASBA’s website Thursday.

“The Tweets ascribed to this individual are absolutely unacceptable. As set out in our codes of conduct, school boards and Albertans have the highest of expectations of locally-elected school trustees. It is our expectation that trustees will meet these standards,” Hansen wrote.

“We are confident the local school board will respond to this situation in a manner that reflects the high expectations we have of elected school trustees; honors due process and is aligned with each school board’s responsibilities under the School Act and Alberta’s laws.”

Wells is asking the Battle River School District to denounce Andre’s comments. He would also like Andre to issue a public apology.

“There can be no question that Mr. Andre’s personal comments, and his retweets, are incredibly offensive and inappropriate for any member of public office. His pattern of tweets clearly indicate that this is not a simple mistake in judgement or one time occurrence. It is questionable as to whether a person who publicly ascribes to these views is fit for public office.”

Wells added that he “would like to know how the School District, Alberta School Boards Association, and Ministry of Education plan to investigate this inappropriate conduct in a serious, transparent, and expeditious manner.”

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In a letter posted on its website Wednesday (which you can read in its entirety below), the Battle River School District stressed that Andre’s statements in no way reflect the opinions of the board.

It said that trustees will also now be participating in social media and digital citizenship training in the near future, adding “further diversity training may also be provided.”

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This article was originally published on Wednesday, November 6. It was updated at 10:27 p.m. Thursday, November 7, to include a comment from the ASBA. It was updated on Tuesday, November 12, to add Andre’s resignation.