At about 8 p.m. on Aug. 20, a slender man wearing a light blue polo and khaki shorts stepped to a podium in the Spring-Ford Area High School cafeteria. It was the end of the administrators’ and Board of Directors’ first meeting since June, since the video went viral.
The man’s name was Zach Laurie, he said, and he was with the Spring-Ford Education Association. He was at the work session in Royersford to read a statement from Kevin Bean, a sixth-grade social studies teacher.
With a nervous grin, Laurie reminded the room that the words were from Bean, not him: “Wrestling was a boyhood dream for me. During my time as a professional wrestler, I have portrayed many characters. Most recently I was cast as a bad guy.”
Professional wrestlers have portrayed myriad gimmicks to incite fan vitriol over the years. There have been movie stars and spooky recluses, vampires and thieves. Bean played a character named Blitzkrieg, “The German Juggernaut,” who wore a black shirt emblazoned with a lightning bolt. He waved an Iron Cross flag, screamed “Sieg Heil!” and performed a Nazi salute.
When a video of Bean portraying Blitzkrieg gained traction on social media in late July, the district opened an internal investigation. In an email sent to parents Aug. 8, SFASD Superintendent David Goodin revealed the verdict: “Based on the investigation completed we have found no evidence indicating violation of board policies by Mr. Bean. As such, Mr. Bean will continue to remain a teacher within the District.
“While many understand that professional wrestling is a form of entertainment and not a reflection of one’s personal beliefs, Mr. Bean understands that the character he played has been viewed by some as being offensive,” Goodin wrote.
In the meantime, Bean expressed remorse for the “pain and discomfort” caused to those offended by his actions. He derided media coverage of him as “misleading” before clarifying: 1) The Blitzkreig character no longer exists; 2) he has taken a hiatus from wrestling; and 3) he won’t discuss wrestling in the classroom.
“I sincerely apologize to the members of the Spring-Ford community. I extend my thanks to those of you who have shown support, and hope to regain the trust of those who I offended,” Bean said in the statement.
With the first day of school set for Aug. 27, the district appears ready to move past the issue.
The Spring-Ford Parents for Racial and Cultural Awareness aren’t quite satisfied, though. In an open letter addressed to the district’s board and administrators, the parents wrote that “this situation needed to be an opportunity to affirm the character of Spring-Ford School District, our commitment to diversity and a strong rebuke of those actions.”
The parents called on the district to clarify its commitment to creating an “inclusive and diverse environment” and its stance on white nationalism and hate speech. The parents suggested the district hold a forum to discuss race issues in the community, create a district policy of public conduct for teachers and employees and outline specific actions that will be taken in the 2018-19 school year to address and encourage diversity.
SFASD Board President Thomas DiBello said the district doesn’t have tangible plans to address those concerns, but did say the district does not support hate speech or anti-Semitism.
“There are labor laws and teacher contracts all in place, and we can’t make decisions based on emotion,” he said.
Andrew Rosenbloom, one of the parents who helped pen the letter, expressed frustration at Goodin’s message that parents “talk with your students about this situation and reassure them that all of our Spring-Ford schools are safe and welcoming.”
“When my daughters come home and say, ‘Daddy, I heard there’s going be a Nazi working in the sixth-grade center, is he going to be our teacher?’ I don’t want to have that conversation,” Rosenbloom said.
DiBello said other district parents told the board they have seen Bean perform as Blitzkrieg and didn’t find any issues with the character.
A man who identified himself as Kimzey Runyan, 58, echoed that sentiment. Standing outside the Wegmans in nearby Collegeville, Runyan said he would have no issue sending his kids to a classroom helmed by Bean.
“I’ve been to those wrestling shows,” Runyan said. “There was a guy portraying a Canadian, waving a Canadian flag and saying, ‘Boo USA!’ After the show [the fans] get to talk to the wrestlers, and I asked him, ‘Where are you from, Toronto?’ He said, ‘No. New Jersey.’ It’s no different than an actor in a movie.”
But Karen Murphy, 71, a retired teacher, said she wouldn’t be comfortable having Bean teach her grandchildren. SFASD’s sixth-grade social studies curriculum includes “Western Europe: Its Land and Early History.”
“Any references to Nazis and fascism, given today’s environment, concern me,” she said. l