A Monument parent is calling for the resignation of Lewis-Palmer School District 38 Board of Education President Matthew Clawson after what she said she believes was an offensive, anti-Semitic photo appeared on his Facebook page over the weekend.
“I voted for him. Our kids went to school together. No matter who he is, this has to be addressed,” said Zakary Watson, a member of the D-38 technology advisory committee.
A photo of a group of children with short mustaches similar to that worn by Adolf Hitler and two older kids raising their hands in a gesture often associated with a Nazi-type salute was posted Saturday night on Clawson’s Facebook page. Wording indicated it was taken during a boating trip to Lake Powell, Utah.
“It’s pretty inappropriate,” Watson said. “It’s unsettling to me as a parent and a member of this community.”
Clawson, a civil trial lawyer who was elected to the school board in 2015 and reelected in 2019, said Tuesday the post was made without his knowledge after a recent family vacation.
Children at a birthday party held during the trip were performing skits and acting like Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx, Clawson said, adding that he did not know the photos had been taken. A few of the children are Clawson's.
“I am grieved that this photo may have been construed as a reflection of my beliefs,” he said in a written public apology he issued Tuesday.
After being home for about a week, Clawson said he was asked when he was going to post pictures from the trip.
“I then allowed a family member to post photos to my Facebook account,” Clawson said.
“After an hour or so,” Clawson said, he reviewed the photos that had been posted and came across one that was “inappropriate and offensive.” He said he immediately removed it.
“Although the photo was taken in children’s play and without awareness, it was nonetheless inappropriate and offensive,” he said. “This type of picture has no place in our society.”
The photo was up long enough that Watson saw it on her Facebook news feed Sunday morning. She disputes Clawson's claims that he removed the photo in question in a timely manner.
The photo, along with others from the vacation, was posted at 9:07 p.m. Saturday, Watson said, and she saw it at 8:52 a.m. Sunday and took a screenshot of it.
“Under our current society, there’s such a positiveness around rightness,” Watson said, “and I have zero tolerance right now for this kind of racial injustice in our community involving someone who is supposed to be a leader and support our students and staff.”
Clawson said he took the photo down before he was contacted by anyone raising concerns over the picture.
“My public service role means that my family and I are watched closely,” he said in his apology. “I am sorry that we were not more sensitive to the effect this picture would bring.”
Watson said the image initially was replaced by a photo without the saluting children, just the children with mustaches. That photo was later removed, she said.
In a letter of complaint she sent Monday to the D-38 superintendent and the school board, Watson wrote, “I’m sure you are all aware that since World War II, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists have continued to use the salute, making it the most common white supremacist hand sign in the world (Anti Defamation League, 2020).”
Watson said as of Tuesday, she had not received a response to her letter other than Clawson calling her Monday and sending her his written statement of apology Tuesday.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Lewis-Palmer School District 38 said the photo that appeared on Clawson’s personal social media was offensive.
“D-38 remains committed to non-discrimination in relation to race, creed, color, gender, ancestry, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, age and/or disability,” the district statement said.
“D-38 will support our students, staff, families, and community with equity. We will not tolerate harassment or discrimination of students and/or staff based on the aforementioned areas.”
Superintendent K.C. Somers earlier in June amid racial tensions across the nation called for people to work on “better understanding our differences and take the time to learn more about ways that we can support each other and take a stand against racism.”
In upcoming months, the district will “further engage in difficult conversations about these issues with our students, families and staff.”
In addition to Clawson stepping down from his role on the school board, Watson also wants D-38 board members to participate in racial justice training.
After seeing Clawson’s apology, Briana Nelson, a graduate of Lewis-Palmer High School, said she would like the district to further investigate the incident.
“I do believe that he should face appropriate consequences, as he represents Lewis-Palmer School District and what we stand for, and to partake in behavior such as this is inexcusable.,” she said. “I think the post was incredibly disrespectful and uncalled for."
The photo circulated on social media Tuesday. Twitter user @nikfromColorado also said Clawson should resign.
“My grandfather and our family escaped Nazi Germany in 1944. I’m here in America because of Nazis,” he wrote. “To see that posted especially in the midst of the greatest racial uprising since the civil rights era is unacceptable. . . . There are children from all walks of life who attend Monument schools.”
This story has been updated to include Lewis-Palmer School District 38's response to the issue.