The Spring-Ford Area School District’s first day of school was Aug. 27, and hours after the final bell rang the community descended on the district high school’s cafeteria for a school board meeting.
Packs of parents, teachers and administrators shuffled in to observe, with many relegated to benches on the other end of the cafeteria. An anxious buzz hung over the room.
The SFASD gained national attention when a video of sixth-grade teacher Kevin Bean portraying a Nazi character called Blitzkrieg “The German Juggernaut” at a professional wrestling event gained traction on social media in late July. The district conducted an internal investigation, and on Aug. 8 it was ruled that Bean had not violated SFASD policy and would remain employed.
In public comments delivered after the board meeting in Royersford, that decision was applauded by more than 20 residents, most of whom had children in the SFASD. They described Bean as a “gentle giant,” who developed warm bonds with their children and mentored students victimized by bullying. “My son had the privilege of being in Mr. Bean’s sixth grade,” said one parent, echoing the sentiment of many more before and after him.
“It’s a sin … that he was drug through the mud, through newspapers. No one ever went and interviewed him,” said Sal Addalli, whose daughter was Bean’s student. (The Exponent requested multiple interviews with Bean and did not get a response.) “I hope he goes back to wrestling. I hope he goes back to the character he was.”
Adalli finished his comments to raucous applause. Four more parents, including a woman who identified herself as being part of the “Jewish community,” made similar statements before it was Andrew Rosenbloom’s turn.
He approached the dais and, before speaking, looked out on the room for a moment. Earlier in the month Rosenbloom helped pen a letter to the district expressing concern over Bean’s actions.
“I want to thank everyone for coming out tonight. Obviously from the crowd reactions, my opinion and my thoughts are divergent from, obviously, the majority here,” he said.
For the first time to that point, Rosenbloom expressed the perspective of a concerned parent. He said he was disappointed by the result of the district’s investigation, and noted how online commenters who identified themselves as SFASD residents made “racist, bigoted and insensitive,” comments directed toward him on articles about Bean.
“For Mr. Bean to make a conscious decision to portray a character that embraces or represents Nazi culture and [that he] found it appropriate to walk around with the Iron Cross flag, screaming, ‘Sieg Heil!” while making a Nazi salute, which is criminal behavior in at least 11 countries, at a public event with children present is, in my opinion, morally repugnant,” Rosenbloom said.
Many parents supportive of Bean compared his antics to that of an actor in a movie. Rosenbloom challenged the equivalency, insisting that teachers should conduct themselves as role models in and out of the classroom.
“Now I don’t know Mr. Bean personally, and I’m not attacking him,” Rosenbloom said. He got cut off. “Yes, you are!” multiple people hollered before Board President Thomas DiBello restored order with the pounding of his gavel.
As the night wore on, parent after parent stepped forward to the dais, speaking to the positive impact Bean had on their children. A woman who identified herself as Jewish said that she had taken her children to see Bean perform as Blitzkrieg and didn’t find a problem with his character, which ADL Philadelphia said, “crosses a line,” in a July 25 tweet.
Beth Eldrege found herself bewildered by the deluge of parents who expressed support for Bean without acknowledging the impact his actions had on children.
“I didn’t want to say anything, and I wasn’t planning on it, but I felt like I can’t sleep tonight unless I stand up there and at least speak for my daughter,” she said.
Eldredge has two biracial daughters, the oldest of which is in 10th grade.
“What she saw broke her heart,” Eldrege said to the crowd.
After the meeting, Eldrege hung back on the dimly lit sidewalk outside the school. The parking lot had emptied, and before returning to her car she was stopped by an SFASD administrator, who was moved by her comments.
Eldrege said she doesn’t plan on sending her 4-year-old to the SFASD, in part because of “race issues,” predating the Bean controversy. Her older daughter said there’s been an increase in the use of the ‘N-word’ and debates about the appropriateness of the Confederate flag at school since the November 2016 election.
SFASD Superintendent David Goodin was reluctant to commit to the district holding further discussions about racial diversity and cultural sensitivity, as requested by Rosenbloom and other parents, and instead champion SFASD’s work with the Delaware Valley Consortium for Excellence and Equity, a collaborative association of 26 school districts committed to helping students of color.
“We try to send as many teachers [to the consortium meetings] as we can,” Goodin said. He was asked if Bean will be dispatched to such an engagement.
“I’m not going to comment on that,” Goodin said, grinning. “Just because it’s personnel. But let’s put it like this: We try to get as many teachers as we can to these things.”