Northville school board president criticized for Covid remarks

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

On his Facebook page, Matthew Wilk once liked a post by someone who said he was quitting the social media site because of privacy concerns.

Wilk, the president of the Northville Board of Education, may wish he had taken the lesson to heart.

Matthew Wilk

He is being lambasted by parents and teachers for Facebook remarks downplaying the coronavirus pandemic. An online petition demanding his resignation has received several thousand signatures in the first 24 hours.

On Saturday, he shared a Facebook post that asked, given the ubiquity of cellphones, why weren't there more videos of panic at hospitals or video diaries of people dying from COVID-19?

“This ‘Pandemic’ exists only in falsified statistics shouted on the news without context,” wrote Carpe Donktum, an account popular with conservatives for its memes in support of President Donald Trump.

When a resident objected to Wilk’s sharing of the post, he explained why he supported it.

“How about we allow schools to reopen and Grandma can take the extreme precautions?” wrote Wilk. “She can wear a spacesuit when she ‘needs’ to go out and shop, and the rest of the world can go about their lives.”

His comments and sharing of the post drew an immediate reaction from parents and teachers in the school district, who shared their unhappiness on various social media sites.

Their concern was heightened as, like other school districts, they currently wrestle with how to reopen schools amid the pandemic.

Lisa McIntyre, president of the PTA at Ridge Wood Elementary in Northville, said the school system needs to take into consideration all the residents of the community.

“Integrity and accountability is a huge part of being a community leader,” she said.

Wilk’s downplaying of the coronavirus was consistent with his other statements on Facebook and Twitter during the past several months.

In April, his Facebook page shared a quote from an article that showed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s photo and downplayed the virus-related lockdowns across the country.

“These people — these obnoxious Karens, for lack of a better FCC-compliant term — are delighted by the Chinese Bat Biter grippe and the opportunity it presents for them to try to impose their arbitrary will upon the rest of us,” said the story.

In reposting it, Wilk wrote: “YES!”

After the furor over his Facebook actions Saturday, Wilk released a statement that distanced himself from his social media remarks.

“COVID has been catastrophic and we have to make sure that we address it in the best way possible,” he said.

He said his earlier opinions were his own and not the board’s, and that it was imperative for the school system to consider all viewpoints, “not just the loudest or the most active on social media.”

He said he understood the struggle people were going through because his own father had been hospitalized for a week and, during that time, wasn’t allowed any visitors. He didn’t say why his dad had been in the hospital.

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Twitter: @prima_donnelly