LACONIA — Embattled School Board member Dawn Johnson on Tuesday said she hoped that, with the ushering in of a new year, her colleagues will put aside their rebuke of her over a social media post which included an anti-Semitic cartoon.
Johnson’s plea came during the first meeting of the board since the meeting of Dec. 15 when the six other board members called for her resignation, which Johnson rebuffed, and then stripped her of her committee assignments.
She said the fallout from her repost of material from the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer on Dec. 7 taught her “some painful lessons” and that the experience left her humbled.
“As I am humbled, I hope the board can show wisdom and humility, and rethink some of these decisions — decisions that reflect emotions and politics as opposed to thoughtful and genuine reflection and consideration,” Johnson said, reading from a prepared statement.”
Johnson repeated her earlier explanation that she took down the link immediately after learning from others that it came from The Daily Stormer, and immediately posted an apology online for doing so.
“I posted an article (about a decision by the governor of Georgia). I posted no picture,” she said in reference to the cartoon with a derogatory caricature of a Jewish man which went up online on her Facebook page. “The picture from what I could tell was somewhere way at the bottom of the whole strand after the article. If I had seen it I would not have posted it.”
The post drew outrage and widespread condemnation from the general public, members of the local Jewish community, and even Gov. Chris Sununu who called it “disgusting,” and “reprehensible.”
Prior to Johnson’s statement three members of the public told the board they were still pressing for her resignation.
Erika Allen asked the board to consider revising its policies to make it possible for it to remove a member for unacceptable behavior. Megan Daigneault said Johnson’s apologies thus far have not been “meaningful” and pointed out that she has not reached out to the Jewish or Black community.
Johnson said the criticism she had received during the past month was misguided and that she had been the victim of character assassination.
“The way my mistake was handled was largely political,” she said midway through her 11-minute statement.
Acknowledging that she was emotional and hurt by the lengthy criticism from the public and the board during the Dec. 15 meeting, during which she called the other members of the board “a disgrace,” Johnson said going forward she would “try to refrain from pointing fingers and making any offenses.”
But her statement pointedly criticized the board for a rush to judgment over the posting controversy and for not first giving her an opportunity to give her side of the story. Also on Tuesday, she went on to criticize the board for supporting policies and decisions which she said were wrongfully keeping the city’s 2,000 public school students from attending class in-school, full-time during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We need to have honest discussions about policies so we can get our students to places where they can learn, which means eventually getting them into the classroom,” she said. “The American Pediatric (Society), the CDC, and the Department of Ed(ucation), all say kids belong in school as normal, and yet we are not following these guidelines.”
She reiterated her earlier opposition to requiring students to wear face masks whenever they cannot maintain the recommended 6-foot social distance.
“Some may well sue the district for putting their children’s health at risk for these policies,” she said. “I am not going to sit back and be silent when something needs to be said, when some lights need to be shined.”
“So I apologize,” she concluded. “No intent was made. I did not know what the situation was and hope we can move forward and all find forgiveness and learn how to fix this.”