BENNINGTON — A member of the Mount Anthony Union School Board is under fire on social media over recent Facebook comments relating to Blacks, the Black Lives Matter movement and liberals.
Ed Letourneau, who is serving his third term on the board, was sharply criticized on Facebook by a number of area residents, many of whom said he should not be allowed to continue serving on a school board.
He insisted Friday that he is merely exercising his First Amendment rights of freedom of speech as an individual, not as a board member.
One comment from Letourneau amid a Facebook thread focusing on Black Lives Matter and related issues stated: "I suspect most of the blacks here have a record and a court ordered them not to leave, instead of serving prison time."
Another comment stated: "Considering all the rioting and looting they are doing, many no longer think THOSE black lives matter."
"Absolutely unethical and inappropriate!" Andrea Bacchi commented in response. "Time for him to resign!"
She later posted: "BENNINGTON, VERMONT: More posts from MAU School Board and CDC [board] member, Ed Letourneau. Do you really want this kind of racist, hateful, and hurtful person on the School Board making decisions for students, teachers, and staff?! I certainly don't. Call him out. Make noise. He needs to be forced to resign."
Roger Hunt commented about Letourneau on Facebook, saying "I've actually seen worse from him on the different forums. How did this guy get elected to the MAU board?"
Kristi Tripp Pepoon said, "I'm going to do my best to get him ousted — and I'm not alone — this is unacceptable."
Another posted comment under Letourneau's name and Facebook photo in August defended slaveholders among the nation's founders. "If you studied the actual history you would find they inherited slaves, could not free them under law, and gave them a better life then would have had if free. Facts matter dumbass. Find them."
After that comment was posted by Laura and Dave Payne on Saturday, former state Rep. Rachael Fields of Bennington asked, "Isn't there a way to remove him immediately?"
"This is appalling," commented former House Speaker Shap Smith of Morrisville, later adding, "Is there a mechanism for a recall?"
Jenny Dewar, a justice of the peace and former member of the Pownal Select Board, commented, "Terrible for the kids. Terrible for the staff. Terrible for the teachers. Terrible for Bennington. Terrible terrible terrible. Get him OUT of there."
Several others offered similar comments on the Letourneau quote.
MAU Board Chairman Timothy Holbrook said Friday he hadn't yet seen Letourneau's social media posts, but said that "in general, a board member has to be extremely careful what he publishes Inappropriate comments reflect badly on the school board."
Reached Friday by phone, Letourneau, who posts on Facebook under "Eg Letourneau," said of the statement about Blacks in Vermont, "I've heard people say that in the state office building, so yeah I'm going to believe it."He added that the information "was volunteered to me" that Blacks under those circumstances "were ordered not to leave [Vermont] It's what I am told has happened."
In another comment, Letourneau said, "Clearly the Banner editors are not bright enough to connect the dots and figure out that BLM is a terrorist organization that has a lot of stupid followers who cannot think clearly."
He also posted a comment referring to eugenics, or the use of selective breeding to promote human genetic qualities deemed desirable: "Must be a liberal. Where is the eugenics program when you need it?"
Another Letourneau comment was: "We should have a protest over the abundance of stupid kids coming out of schools."
Kimberly Morgan Burke said of Letourneau in a Facebook post: "He should NOT be on the board or any other board for that matter. He is a piece of work for sure. He is the reason I left many of those pages. Problem is ... people complain about people like this but no one steps up to replace them! He needs to be voted out and until that happens, or he does something to get thrown off the board, he will remain there."
Letourneau, who also serves on the Southwest Vermont Regional Technical School District regional board responded later Friday to the criticism in an email sent to the Banner.
Letourneau said he stands "by the rights provided in the First Amendment. They are not lost or become silenced because someone chooses to serve on a board."
The statement continued: "I also gave up four years of my life in uniform to protect these rights. I suspect the people complaining about my use of them, never served the nation for a day. My service helped protect their right to whine about my opinions. Anyone who doesn't like it, has the right to ignore me as they wish. I also have not stated anything related to schools. Just my personal thoughts on events in society which I have every right to."
About Black Lives Matter, he said, "I do not approve of BLM. The riots, looting and burning they are involved in is not normal behavior. Some think it's a terrorist organization, and it may well be. I do understand the mindset and compliant of BLM; but I also understand that if you are not breaking the law, the chances of contact with the police are nil. It's how the world works, and they failed to understand it."
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien