Patterico's Pontifications


School Official Resigns After Harassing Teenagers Exercising Their First Amendment Rights

Filed under: General — Dana @ 12:18 pm

[guest post by Dana]

Even though he is reportedly in the final stages of his Doctoral dissertation at Drexel University’s Educational Leadership and Management program, I’m sure assistant principal Zach Ruff’s recent real-life demonstration of his “leadership” skills at the prestigious Downingtown STEM Academy, was not an indictment against the university, but instead was simply a troubling demonstration of the authoritarian bully that Ruff truly is. In the video below, we see yet another school official not understanding that speech laws allow for individuals to exercise their First Amendment rights in the public square, even when what is being said offends them. And we see another school official – an educator – not taking advantage of a unique opportunity to engage with young people, but instead chooses to instigate an ugly confrontation of the worst kind. The kind where his own personal politics become more important than anything else. That Christian pro-life siblings, 16-year-old Conner Haines and his 19-year-old sister Lauren managed to keep their cool and go high while Ruff goes oh so low, is to their immense credit:

In the video, Zach Ruff, who is also the dean of academics and student life, can be seen aggressively confronting the two protesters as they stand quietly on a public sidewalk with their pro-life signs. When the students tell him that they have a right to be on public property, he loses any sense of propriety and begins to threaten them with calling the police. And then the confrontation gets ugly.

When the kids explain that they are exposing the holocaust that is happening in America, Ruff can be seen angrily telling the kids that there is no holocaust happening in America. In response, Connor Haines points to his sign and explains that aborted babies are indeed the poor and underprivileged, and that these “image bearers of God” are being murdered every day in America. Ruff, clearly boiling over, points to the sign while hollering at the Haines kids, “You can go to hell where they are too. They’re not children, they’re cells! You’re at a science-based school, those are cells! They’re not innocent. They’re cells.” Ruff amusingly undercuts his own argument by his dramatically hysterical overreaction to a… clump of cells.

When Lauren Haines attempts to address the issue of science, Ruff shuts her down. Connor Haines brings up the issue of faith as he begins to witness to Ruff, telling him, “Jesus Christ can set you free from your sins.” As you can imagine, this doesn’t go over well with the already agitated school official. Revealing his his true colors, Ruff barks at the teenager, “Listen here, son, alright? I’m as gay as the day is long and twice as sunny. I don’t give a fuck what you think Jesus tells me and what I should and should not be doing. You and Trump can go straight to hell.”

Not yet finished harassing the students, Ruff huffs at the young man, “Shut your mouth and don’t talk to my students. You do not have permission to speak and engage.”

And, just when it seems the school official would stop berating the Haines, he throws out this doozey, “Just like a**holes, everybody has them and they all stink.”

Eventually, a man gets out of his car and confronts Ruff. The video is worth watching for that scene alone. Sadly, no other adults step up to the plate to remind him that these individuals have every right to speak in the public square.

As a result of the video going viral, Ruff was placed on administrative leave, while an investigation was conducted by the school district. Just last week, he was suspended without pay. And this past week, Ruff resigned. The school district released this statement:

“After considering this situation in total, its divisive impact on the community, the reaction from his students, and the attention this situation has garnered nationally, it is clear to us that Dr. Ruff decided that the best thing for his students, the School District, and the community was to resign from employment.”

A GoFundMe page has been established for Ruff, allegedly by his husband. The page reads:

Dr Zach Ruff was forced to resign from his position as assistant principal of Downingtown STEM academy yesterday due to an unfortunate conflict with anti abortion protestors on April 21, 2017, in front of the STEM academy.

While Dr Ruff made some unfortunate comments while in a high stress situation there is no question that Dr Ruff’s intent, as it always has been, was to protect the students he was responsible for.

Regardless of your opinion regarding Dr Ruff’s actions during this incident, his integrity and track record as an educator is impeccable. The fact that a single mistake can destroy Dr Ruff’s career in education is a tragedy.

The support from the community, particularly from students (both current and former) and parents has been amazing. Just as Dr Ruff has positively impacted the lives of an enormous number of students over the years, it’s now time to give him the support he deserves as the cost to Dr Ruff and his family has been significant

I’ve watched the video several times, and I’ve yet to see where Ruff demonstrates any real concern for students in the vicinity. That he is attacking two teenagers would appear to undercut this argument. Also, the STEM Academy is comprised of 800 students in the 9th – 12 grades. In other words, it’s a high school. Does Ruff truly believe no students at the school are engaging in sex and/or having abortions as a result of unwanted pregnancy? And why on earth would he think that if any were, he would know? And after witnessing their assistant principal bully two young people, would these kids want to confide in him about such personal matters? Would his public actions convince them that he is indeed, a safe space?

It would also seem that the question of “forced” is open to interpretation. Ruff’s own actions essentially “forced” him to resign. He had the power to determine that particular fate. That he chose to make several spectacularly bad decisions which seem to have sealed the very real likelihood of “a recommendation that he be investigated to lose his teaching/administrative license,” is on him alone.

Moreover, when Ruff is verbally harassing and screaming at two teenagers who quietly refer to him as “sir,” I am hard-pressed to call this an “unfortunate conflict”. This was an ugly incident purely of Ruff’s making. And during that ugly incident, it was Ruff who made it into a “high stress situation”. He chose to dial it up to 10 because he found the Haines kids and what they represent despicable. Ruff did not instigate this ugly incident to protect anyone. Rather he allowed himself to be provoked by that which he detests: Pro-life Christians. (Obviously, he detests Trump too, but given the age of one of the Haines kids, and not knowing how the 19 year old voted, he makes a gross assumption to lump them in with the president.) None of Ruff’s narrow-minded bigoted actions had anything to do with protecting anyone, but rather it was purely about protecting his own political pet causes.

Sadly, in reading comments from a large number of parents, and reading that students presented the school board with a petition signed by 50,000 individuals supporting Ruff, the biggest tragedy in this whole debacle appears to be that the First Amendment rights that Conner and Lauren Haines were freely exercising are of very little importance, and viewed as rather inconsequential in this situation by far too many individuals. And this is something we should all be protesting.


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