MISHAWAKA, Ind. — Parents and community members lined up to voice their disgust at Monday night’s Penn Harris Madison School Board meeting. The barrage of criticism aimed at the majority of the board members and superintendent was in defense of a parent who has been banned from all school property simply for being a combat veteran.
“The parent that was banned was banned because he was a veteran, has guns.” One man stated during public comment. “I’m a veteran. I have several guns. When are you going to ban me (Superintendent Jerry) Thacker? (Board President Chris) Riley?”
All of this follows a REAL News Michiana investigation showing Superintendent Jerry Thacker said PHM is maintaining a ban against a parent of 4 children in the district because he is a veteran and he owns guns. The parent retired from the Army in 2016. He did two combat tours, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
The parent, Ben Dallas, was initially banned from all school property in September. A letter from PHM initially claimed Dallas was banned for posting a meme on social media that was critical of the school district, specifically PHM School Board President Chris Riley. However, the banishment came only a day after the US Department of Education came down with a ruling showing the school district violated the civil rights of straight white students — all stemming from a formal complaint filed by Dallas.
“The people on this board seem to be very thin-skinned when it comes to public comment.” One parent added during public comment on Monday night. “Ben Dallas has a right to critique your performance. You don’t get to censor him and claim you’re scared because he’s a veteran and has guns in his home.”
According to a letter Dallas received in September, the ban stems from a video he created and posted to YouTube in which he uses a popular meme from the movie The Matrix. The meme shows the main character, Neo, dodging bullets being fired at him. In the meme created by Dallas, Neo is depicted as school board president Chris Riley. Instead of dodging bullets, Riley is dodging words that come across the page. Those words include “accountability,” “hiring sex workers” and “implicit bias” — all things Riley has been accused of ignoring in the PHM School Corporation. PHM claimed the video below is considered a threat of gun violence.
Despite an investigation conducted and completed by the St. Joseph County Police Department showing there was no threat of gun violence and no crime committed, PHM has maintained its ban against Dallas for nearly two months.
PHM TRIES TO RUIN VETERAN PARENT’S LIFE
One attendee took aim at board Vice President Ryan McCullough at Monday night’s meeting, calling him a coward.
“Ryan, I’ve known you a long time and you sit up here on this board and you sit in silence when parents call you out.” The man said. “You can email people but you can’t talk in public. To me, that’s a coward.”
About a week after PHM banned Dallas from school grounds, the PHM School Board Vice President then sent Dallas’ employer a message on Linkedin in an attempt to get the father of 4 fired from his private sector job.
“I thought you should be aware that one of your employees… uses these platforms to post some disturbing social media post.” PHM School Board Vice President Ryan McCullough wrote in his message on September 28th. While a screenshot of the message can be seen below, RNM has redacted portions that could identify the parent’s employer.
McCullough has since refused to address the issue when being pressed by other members of the board, calling it a private matter. In emails obtained by RNM, school board member Matt Chaffee attempted to get the issue added to the school board agenda for Monday’s meeting, however, McCullough played stupid claiming PHM leadership never contacts the employers of parents.
Other parents also voiced concerns about McCullough’s actions.
“This parent (Dallas) is in the district. He has children in the district. And, you contact his employer in hopes to get him what, fired?” One woman questioned. “What did you think would be the outcome from that? What about his children if he would have lost his job? Those are Penn students. You actively worked to hurt Penn students and you are on this board. You would not have contacted Mr. Dallas’ employer if that YouTube video didn’t have anything to do with PHM.”
A THORN IN PHM’S SIDE
Dallas has been extremely vocal and critical of PHM, its administration and school board members for several years. He has spoken out about Critical Race Theory, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, radical gender theory and the district’s employment of a drag queen who works as a paraprofessional with developmentally disabled children.
Dallas was also successful in another complaint that he filed against PHM earlier this year in which Riley violated Indiana open door laws. That case is currently being used as an example by the state as how school boards should not behave in an article titled “Guidance from the Public Access Counselor on Public Comment at School Board Meetings.”
Last month, RNM learned the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) opened another investigation into the Penn Harris Madison School Corporation focusing on apparent retaliation the school district took against Dallas. That investigation is still ongoing.
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