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Roseville school official under fire over posts

Candice Williams, and Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Roseville — Demonstrators outside Roseville school district’s administration building Monday night chanted “Stop the hate” and “Spread the peace, protesting what they called racist and Islamaphobic images posted to social media by a board member.

“It’s just sad to see he has no remorse for his comments,” said Meriam Uppal, referring to board Vice President Alfredo Francesconi, under fire for images on a personal Facebook page that critics say are racist and bigoted. “I really hope that the president and the superintendent of the board of education encourage him to resign. Otherwise, it will speak volumes to the community.”

The protests came before the start of the school board meeting, at which about five people expressed concern about the social media posts.

“As you know the (Department of Education) and state superintendent have said to keep a heightened watch on such type of bullying,” said Lena Kamal, of the Council on American Islamic Relations, Michigan (CAIR-MI). “Especially when it comes from our administration, it’s completely unacceptable. It’s offensive. We believe he is unfit to serve.”

“I don’t have anything to say,” Francesconi said after the meeting. “That’s all you’re going to get from me.”

No board members discussed the issue during the meeting.

Afterward, school board President Theresa Genest said she has asked Francesconi to stop posting such remarks on his page. She said he’s posting images and comments on his own computer on his own time.

“I wish that he would stop that,” she said. “We have asked him to please do so, and he said that he would try to do that for us. So we’ll see what happens ... We can not take his computer away.”

Controversial images were posted last month on a Facebook page with Francesconi’s name, including one that showed African-Americans jumping on a damaged police car and said: “Want to stop riots? Play the national anthem. They’ll all sit down.”

Francesconi acknowledged he shared the image and told C&G Newspaper: “I read them, and I agreed with them and I retweeted (shared) them.”

Another post that showed up on the Facebook account was a picture of Donald Trump and reads: “No, I’m not going to kill the gays, make slavery legal, and take away women’s rights. I’m not a Muslim.”

Francesconi also did not respond to repeated emailed and phone requests by The Detroit News during the past week.

One legal expert said shocking or offensive posts or writings are not necessarily grounds for removal from a public post.

“While the First Amendment protects even the worst speech that one can imagine, the public has the right to lawfully speak against him, demonstrate for him to step down from his official position and vote against him if he runs for a public office in the future,” said Larry Dubin, a law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy.

School Superintendent John Kment said the board does not have an ethics ordinance or code of conduct. “If it did, it would not be enforceable,” he said. “All the board could do is sanction him.”

“I don’t agree with it,” Kment said of Francesconi’s posts. “I don’t philosophically or politically agree with it, but I agree with the First Amendment.”

The board cannot vote to remove Francesconi, officials said.

Residents could make a bid to recall Francesconi, said Doug Dinning, attorney for the school district.

This isn’t the first time Francesconi has been asked to resign for online racist posts online.

CAIR-MI called for Francesconi to step down in June 2015 for allegedly posting an image of Jan Morgan — an Arkansas gun range owner who bars Muslim customers from her business — with text that claims Muslims have sex with animals.

Francesconi was also forced to removed a similar Islamophobic Facebook post in 2013, according to MI-CAIR.

“What he’s saying in a leadership position is not just a mere reflection of his own views, but he’s representing an elected body,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR-MI.

“And what’s extremely troubling about his latest post is that there has been an increase of bullying cases in schools against children of color,” Walid said. “It would be a shame if children in Roseville schools see his posts and believe that it gives them permission to bully Muslim children or children who are African-American.”

Francesconi’s posts also have caught the attention of community members and graduates.

Uppal, a Roseville High School alumna who ran for the school board in 2009, called the posts a form of cyberbullying. “It says a lot that the rest of the school board is allowing him to remain a member,” Uppal said. “I think that it sends a message to the community that they allow Islamophobia.”

Others defended Francesconi’s rights.

“I’m here advocating for freedom of speech,” said Roseville resident Evelena Scott, who was joined by her daughter, Jenna, 15.

“I believe that the law is greater than a lot of feelings. It doesn’t excuse you from saying things, but it allows you to say them ... I advocate today for freedom of speech. He may not have said great things, or things that offended people (but) I don’t feel he should censor himself. ... I feel that it’s in our best interest to keep freedom of speech alive.”

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed to this report.