District 38 board member posts vacation photo with Nazi salute; parents call for resignation

The+photo+posted+by+District+38+school+board+member+Matthew+Clawson+to+his+public+Facebook+account.+The+image+has+been+altered+to+conceal+the+identities+of+minor+children.

The photo posted by District 38 school board member Matthew Clawson to his public Facebook account. The image has been altered to conceal the identities of minor children.

By Amber Wright, Co-Editor-in-Chief

ORIGINAL POST 8:01 P.M. TUESDAY, JUNE 30, 2020

The above vacation photo was posted to Lewis-Palmer School District Board of Education President Matthew Clawson’s public Facebook account on Saturday night. The photo has caused a public outcry as a result of a group of children wearing fake mustaches, with two older males raising their hands in what resembles the Nazi salute. Clawson’s teenaged son is one of the people doing the inappropriate gesture.

Clawson removed the photo from his Facebook account early Sunday morning after several community members posted indignant comments on the initial post. The photo at issue is allegedly of “children’s play” involving the LPSD Board of Education president and his children, and it has caused many citizens to call for his resignation.

Clawson, who is an attorney, was initially elected to the Board of Education on November 3, 2015, and was re-elected on November 5, 2019. His current term expires on November 7, 2023. Clawson is an elected official, so he cannot be fired or disciplined, but resignation or a recall election is possible.

Matthew Clawson issued a lengthy explanation and apology earlier today which was posted to his Facebook account as well as the Lewis-Palmer district website regarding the inappropriate vacation photo. In this apology, he claimed the photo does not, in any way, represent his personal views.

An Apology from Matt Clawson:

I owe this community a sincere apology. 

During a recent family vacation, a couple of my children participated in a birthday celebration. Sometime during the party, the children were acting silly and performing skits while wearing old Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Brothers type mustaches. The children posed and took pictures during the event. I did not see them do this. After being home from vacation for about a week, I was asked when I was going to post pictures from our vacation. I then allowed a family member to post photos to my Facebook account. After an hour or so, I reviewed the photos posted and ran across a photo that was inappropriate and offensive, and I immediately took one picture down. Although the photo was taken in children’s play and without awareness, it was nonetheless inappropriate and offensive. This type of picture has no place in our society. 

The removal of the offensive picture resulted in significant family conversations. Unfortunately, the photo was on Facebook long enough for it to be viewed by a few of you in the community, despite the fact that it was removed before I was contacted by anyone expressing concern over the picture. My public service role means that my family and I are watched closely. I am sorry that we were not more sensitive to the effect this picture would bring. 

I have spent decades fighting for religious freedom and the rights of all — irrespective of race, color, or sexual orientation. I want to take this opportunity to say that I support racial equality, social justice, and equity for all. I do not support the suppression of anyone or acts of racism.  

In no way do I take the example I set lightly. I am grieved that this photo may have been construed as a reflection of my beliefs. This unfortunate incident is never appropriate at any time, but during these times, it is extremely insensitive. Please accept my apology. 

Many in the community are emailing the school board, Matthew Clawson, and superintendent Dr. K.C. Somers to voice their opinions. The Bear Truth has contacted Clawson and Somers for comment but has received no response from Somers, as he is on vacation until July 6, at this time. Clawson responded to us by emailing his apology letter.

The following are Facebook, Instagram, and Nextdoor comments from citizens of Monument regarding the photo:

“…this is one of the worst things I’ve seen on social media recently… and considering what’s going on in the world that’s saying a lot. Absolutely disgraceful,” said Facebook user Amy Lindsay.

“Nice response.. but sad that such an explanation is needed when it was not intended to look the way it was perceived. I really think people need to relax a little because looking at everything with a fine tooth comb appears to be fueling the issue. It is unfortunate that anyone’s mind assumes the worse in every situation,” wrote an Instagram user named Lolli.

“Apology or not, the behavior is unacceptable and this person should lose his job where he has the ability to influence young people,” wrote Facebook user Amy Lindsay.

“We demand you to resign. There needs to be more than a simple apology. I’m tired of hearing excuses. As a student of Lewis-Palmer high school I am EMBARRASSED to call you the president of the school board,” said Lily Claire on Instagram.

“Are all of you calling for him to step down ready to step into his shoes and serve on this board or any board? Do you realize how many countless hours he spends serving this board? Everyone of you griping act like you are perfect. His only mistake is having a public Facebook page for everyone to attack him on,” said Shawndra Jones on Facebook.

“If you consider the Sieg Heil salute ‘children’s play’ – you’ve got judgment problems. If you think allowing random family members to post to your public profile while acknowledging your spot in the public eye… you’ve got judgment problems,” Tymm Hoffman said on Facebook.

“Also, ‘the photo was taken in children’s play and without awareness’ does not give me any peace of mind whatsoever, Mr. Clawson. It is a sorry excuse that does not hold. One of the older teenagers was your son. If he does not have awareness of what a Nazi Salute is and the white supremacist meaning behind it, then I wonder how you have spent decades ‘fighting for religious freedoms and rights of all’ and so woefully neglected educating your own children around this,” said Amy Savage

“As a parent of teens, they do stupid stuff. While we, as their parents, are responsible for their behavior, it would indeed be ‘Nazi-like’ to control them absolutely. Children find themselves through self expressions and sometimes it’s inappropriate, but it’s always educational,” said a Nextdoor user.

This statement was published late this evening from Lewis-Palmer School District 38 spokesperson Julie Stephen:

Our community and country are in the middle of a season that has provided extensive opportunities for growth and awareness around systemic racism and discrimination. D38 remains committed to non-discrimination in relation to race, creed, color, gender, ancestry, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, age, and/or disability. We 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.

A picture appeared on our School Board president’s personal Facebook page. Its content was offensive. It was taken down when Mr. Clawson saw it, and he has issued a public apology on his Facebook page. You may also view it on his D38 profile page

Some members of this community have commented on their support of Matthew Clawson and defended the photo, but the majority of comments on these social media platforms are disapproving of Clawson.

The Bear Truth reached out directly to parents and students within this district to gather opinions on this issue. Rachel Xu, PRHS Class of 2019, posted the following on Clawson’s Facebook post: “Hello! As a past student of D38 schools, this is wildly inappropriate and disappointing. Assuming that you had the best intentions and that there was no malice behind what you had posted, the blatant lack of social nuance or recognition of the racial implications alone should implore you to step down as president of the board. We need leaders who are educated in the social world and what is happening. The fact that you raised your children to a point where none of them thought this was wrong, speaks volumes of what your leadership doesn’t focus on. Now, is the time to educate yourself on racial injustices. Please take a break from your leadership position and reflect on why this was so offensive and how you managed to think that it was appropriate to do, let alone post. Sending my prayers~”

Lily Savage will be a sophomore this year at Lewis-Palmer high school. She wrote, “As a student of the Lewis-Palmer school district it is disturbing that Mr. Clawson is not being held accountable to his family’s actions. My brother is black and has experienced so much racism in this school it is appalling. Knowing that Mr. Clawson is encouraging this behavior is disgusting. Mr. Clawson calls himself an activist however I would like to disagree with his statement. If he were truly an activist he wouldn’t make up excuses and be defensive in his apology. I find it NECESSARY for him to resign. It is time as a country to move on from our racist roots and change. It is time for Mr. Clawson to take ownership of his actions and accept the consequences.”

Will Taylor, a parent in the Lewis-Palmer School District, gave us the following quote: “This was definitely short-sighted on Clawson’s part. Given his role as President of the school board, it reflects on him as lacking sensitivity around those in the district that could be offended by the photo. That said, I do appreciate his willingness to correct the problem immediately and I sense the sincerity in his apology. I tend to think forgiveness bears greater fruit than any sort of ‘slapping of the hand.’ I take Clawson at his word that this was an unfortunate adolescent mistake and I’d expect he’d take the opportunity to teach his kids about the awful history of such a symbol they playfully portrayed in the photo.”

Ella Savage, who will be a senior at LPHS this year, said: “As a student of this school district I am appalled but sadly not surprised by this behavior from the students of our district. Blatant racist acts like this coming from the President of the School Board’s family make me ashamed to call myself a Ranger. The fact that you even think you can dismiss this behavior with one little Facebook post shows how little you care about the damage you have done. If you have been fighting for racial equality, social justice etc. for so long don’t you think those ideals would be passed on to your son? There is no excuse for what you have done and I respectfully ask for you to resign,” said Savage.

While there are many people supporting Clawson through this controversy, offering forgiveness, and defending him, as of now, a multitude of parents, students, and other members of this community are calling for Clawson’s resignation. A petition on change.org has been created to remove Clawson from his position.

UPDATED 8:39 P.M. THURSDAY JULY 2, 2020

Julie Stephen, the LPSD 38 spokesperson, provided the following email that was sent to district staff members on July 1. This message is also on the district website and Facebook.

Our community and country are in the middle of a season that has provided extensive opportunities for growth and awareness around systemic racism and discrimination.

A picture appeared on our School Board president’s personal Facebook page. Its content was offensive, to say the least. This picture was taken down, and Mr. Clawson has issued a public apology on his Facebook page. You may also view it on his D38 profile page.

D38 remains committed to non-discrimination in relation to race, creed, color, gender, ancestry, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, age, and/or disability. D38 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.

Dr. K.C. Somers, D38 Superintendent, said in his June 5 comments about his mentor, “I firmly believe that what’s happening today in our country provides an opportunity for a reawakening of the ideals and hopes that our country is founded upon … “with liberty and justice for all.” Let us 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, D38 will take the time to further engage in difficult conversations about these issues with our students, families, and staff. We will learn and grow together. 

Marie Parsons is a parent in the D-38 school district. She gave the following thought-provoking statement regarding the societal values our community must uphold: “We as a nation have an opportunity to increase our awareness, take responsibility that our words and action have an impact. We need to create a culture that allows for empathy and understanding to be an intentional part of our day… Injustices across our nation and community must stop to progress together toward a positive and equitable future for all.  We must create a society where everyone is held to an equal standard regardless of race or position in our community.”

Parsons went on to discuss the roles of public figures and community members in our efforts to bring positive change to society, “That being said, those in the public eye can actively lead this movement and we must have the same zero-tolerance level to all behaviors. This nation is hurting and we must come together to shift communities one at a time, to teach our youth through our grandparents the pain our words and actions continue to cause. Awareness and accountability equally, we must hold ourselves and public figures to a higher standard to support and shepherd this change to the next generation.”