In one Washington school district, parents were fuming after discovering a new, high-paid diversity director posted bigoted and hateful social media memes targeting Christians, white people, Trump supporters, and Republicans.
Alekcander Zhdanov was hired less than a month ago as the Tumwater School District’s new Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Up until a month ago, he was also posting hateful memes on Facebook. He admits to posting offensive content. But his answers to angry parents may have done him in.
Now, the newly appointed director is out of a job.
Director isn’t very inclusive
The controversy over Zhdanov’s appointment began when district parents posted screenshots of memes he shared on his Facebook page. Some went back to 2019, and others posted in June of this year. They are objectively offensive.
One meme depicts a black Jesus with the text, “If Jesus looked like this, would white conservatives still be Christians?” Another showed a Trump lawn sign that reads, “Trump. Keep America Great!” next to the text, “what you see on your lawn.” Below the Trump sign is another one, but with different text. The sign says, “Racist lives here” next to the text, “what I see on your lawn.”
A meme posted on June 28 reads, “Man, it must be so hard to come to this country and learn English. For example, there is a silent K in the word ‘Knight,’ 4 silent K’s in the word ‘Knickknack,’ and 3 silent K’s in the word Republican.”
On Twitter, Zhdanov describes himself as a “CoConspirator/Ally” and includes #CRT in his bio. He’s not active on Twitter. His last post was a retweet from 2020. The message he amplified read: “We cannot transform schools at the pace of white comfort, white guilt, or white privilege. TOO DAMN SLOW. It must be at the pace of oppressed peoples desire to be free. SPEED UP HOMIE.”
Screenshots of the posts went viral. Soon after parents sent them to the Tumwater Superintendent Sean Dotson, the Facebook page went private.
The controversy didn’t subside.
Dotson called a meeting of the Equity Advisory Committee meeting to discuss the controversy in more detail. Nearly 150 parents, community members, and staff attended the Zoom meeting. Most speakers grilled and roasted Zhdanov.
NEW: A WA school district’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion posted these memes on Facebook.
Parents complained, the director offered some hard-to-believe excuses when I questioned him, and now, he’s out of a job.
— (((Jason Rantz))) on KTTH Radio (@jasonrantz) August 1, 2021
Director makes unbelievable excuses, parents unload
Zhdanov started the meeting by explaining the Trump-Biden presidential election triggered his posts.
“The very first and foremost thing that I want to convey to you is that I have to own the posts. I have to admit not only to you but publicly to the community, to the district, that those posts were incredibly insensitive,” he confessed. “During a political campaign, things get heated and bothered, and this of this type of thing. So, for whatever reason, I contributed to the problem of a very, very contentious election and political environment that we find ourselves in today, as opposed to being a part of the solution.”
He acknowledged that the posts are “something I have to ask forgiveness for.”
Dotson opened the floor for questions.
He says the many posts don’t represent his views
I was able to ask Zhdanov some questions at this public meeting. I asked him if he believes Republicans, Trump supporters, and/or Christians are racist. He said, “unequivocally no.”
“I do not believe that just because you are of a particular political party that you’re racist, or particularly for Christians, I myself, I am a Christian,” he replied. “I believe wholeheartedly in that faith system. I want you to understand that those posts were, for whatever reason… I was flippant, and I shared with my friends, ‘It’s a ha ha, it’s a laugh.’ It’s not a laugh. It’s not funny. I contributed to the problem, and I perpetuated all of the divisiveness that is currently going on not only during that political campaign but also is continuing on today. So I have to take ownership that I contributed, as opposed to what am I doing to be a part of the solution.”
He vowed to treat Republicans, Trump supporters, and Christians fairly as director.
Parents call him out on inconsistency
Parents, for the most part, were not buying Zhdanov’s excuses. One after another, parents spoke and strongly condemned him.
One mother, Sarah, said she doesn’t believe that he suddenly has seen the error of his hateful ways.
“Your last post was on June 28. Do you really expect me to believe that a month ago, you have just changed your mind, within the last 30 days, of what started in 2019? That’s when they started; these bigoted, disgusting posts started in 2019. You really expect me to think that you’ve changed within 30 days?” she asked.
A father, Andrew, wondered if Zhdanov violated the school’s anti-discrimination policy. And he picked up on the same theme as Sarah.
“You said earlier that most of this was caused by anger or hatred or whatever. It was fueled by a contentious election. However, you were continuing to make racist posts and statements on your social media site just a month ago,” he said. “So how do you expect us to believe one that you’re telling the truth here and that you’ve changed with such a short amount of time in between said post and now.”
Zhdanov again blamed the election, even though his last post came seven months after Biden took office.
Parents — and a teacher — got personal
Some parents took this personally. They said they struggled to read the bigoted posts and realize Zhdanov would be in charge of diversity, equity, and inclusion for their kids.
“I couldn’t imagine having my child come home in tears or not wanting to go back to school because of being bullied, and we need somebody in that role that is going to be an advocate for every child in the school district, not just for some, but for every single child. And I think that’s why a lot of parents are upset about these posts because they don’t feel like it’s for every child. It’s for some children,” said Amber, a mother of three kids in the district.
Sean is a father in the district. To say he was unhappy is an understatement. He wants Zhdanov dismissed immediately.
“You know, you talk like a true politician, and as far as you’re calling people out and pigeonholing people in certain categories,” he told Zhdanov. “Everybody in America today is either white, black, republican, democrat, Muslim, Jewish. We’re not Americans anymore. And you know why? Because people like you are pigeonholing people. Apparently, if you’re a Trump supporter, you’re obviously racist. You know, you’re a trained professional, you should know better than this. I don’t believe anything you said. I don’t believe that you regret it. Your comments, your posts, your reaction since then don’t support it. And I don’t, I clearly don’t believe you.”
When did the district know about the posts?
Superintendent Dotson said the district didn’t learn about the posts until this week after they spread online. Some parents questioned the incompetence of the hiring process for not checking his social media. Some didn’t believe the excuses, implying the district knew about the content.
I asked Dotson if they would have hired Zhdanov if the posts were comparably bigoted towards people of color. Dotson said the committee would have discussed the issue.
“I think someone for this position who had posted posts that were facially racist, that would have probably been something that would have made it disqualifying for the position had we known that at the time of hiring,” Dotson said.
Parents implored Dotson to rethink the appointment. Going into Wednesday’s meeting, his firing seemed unlikely. In an email obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, Dotson tells an angry parent that “It is our expectation that our leaders serve as leaders for all of our students and families, and that I am confident that Mr. Zhdanov is committed to that.”
But a school board member made a surprise announcement during the Wednesday meeting.
School Board member on Director’s posts: ‘I was sick to my stomach’
Laurie Sale is a district school board member and served on the hiring committee that selected Zhdanov. She attended the meeting to hear parents express their concerns. She was the last to speak at the hour-long meeting. And she made a big announcement.
“I would like to just say that when we were interviewing these candidates, these candidates came to us; we thought it was vetted. I had no idea of Alekcander’s social media posts at the time of the interview. If I would have known and would have seen these posts, I would have seriously given him very serious reconsideration to hiring him.”
She said that she doesn’t “think these posts have any place in a respectful discourse.”
“We are here to support all children, we are here to educate all children, we are here to lift up and support all of the children in the Tumwater School District. That cannot include discourse that divides and makes parents feel that they are not included or offended,” Sale said. “I am not happy with what I’ve seen on social media tonight. I was sick to my stomach. It’s important that we have these discussions, and I think it’s extremely important that we revisit this hire.”
Judging by the meeting, parents agree.
And he’s out of a job
As I was preparing this story, in email conversations with Sale and the district, parents were sent a statement about Zhdanov’s fate. He was out of a job.
“The board and superintendent heard the concerns and recognize the need to move in a different direction for our equity leadership position,” the district said in a statement. “After significant discussion of and reflection on the community’s feedback and concerns, the Superintendent has accepted the resignation of the District’s recently hired director of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
The statement cited concerns from community members and staff for the decision. Parents that reached out to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH supported the move.
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