State school board president resigns over chimpanzee tweet

A school board member in Bucks County's Centennial district has resigned his post as president of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association over a tweet that included a photo of chimpanzees staring at a computer screen and a comment about the cost of cyber charter schools.

Mark B. Miller, 66, sent the tweet in response to Quakertown Area Superintendent William Harner’s remark in the Inquirer on Sunday that it costs more to educate a student at a cyber school than a traditional school.

After the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools accused Miller of suggesting that cyber students were monkeys, he apologized for the tweet. On Tuesday night at a Centennial school board meeting, he resigned his state post.

In an interview Wednesday morning, Miller said his tweet had been “misinterpreted and mischaracterized.”

“I never attacked students,” he said, adding that the chimpanzees were meant to represent the cyber charter schools. He said he had used the picture a few times before in reference to the schools, and had received “one or two complaints, but never an organized campaign.”

The tweet, which has been removed from Miller’s Twitter account, said, “Shocking news... Cyber charters cost more than they should.”

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) quickly condemned the tweet, saying it did not “condone/support a recent tweet by @MarkbMiller1 comparing students to monkeys. The image was both offensive & inappropriate." It issued a statement saying Michael Faccinetto, board president of the Bethlehem Area School District and PSBA president-elect, would serve as acting president for the remainder of 2017.

Robert Fayfich, executive director of the charter school coalition, said in a statement: “For the leader of the school boards in Pennsylvania to suggest that children are monkeys and state that the leaders of their schools are monkeys is beyond the pale of rational thought. Such a statement should be condemned by every educator in the state as racist, condescending, deplorable, and offensive. If this is representative of the mindset and rationality of those leading the school boards in Pennsylvania, then the future of education is in worse shape than we thought.”

In a statement on its website, the PSBA’s Governing Board said: “As leaders in public education, we feel it is extremely important for us to set a good example for our students, teachers, administrators and taxpayers. Our association strives for the highest quality public education for students in Pennsylvania, and we must not let anything distract us from that mission.”

Miller has been a Centennial school board member for 10 years and a PSBA officer for four. He said he resigned because of family, personal, and business obligations and to continue fighting on a national level for public schools. He is a member of the board of directors of Network for Public Education, an advocacy group started by Diane Ravitch, a former U.S. assistant secretary of education who became disillusioned with charter schools and renounced her earlier support for testing and school choice. 

“I have other avenues to fight my own fight,” said Miller, who runs a marketing consultant and artist management company. “I just felt this was an appropriate thing to do.”