Geauga Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri on Tuesday demanded that Chardon Local School District Superintendent Michael P. Hanlon step down, claiming he has “proven beyond a reasonable doubt that [he] does not carry the compassion, understanding and leadership quality that is required in [his] position.”

On Monday, Dr. Hanlon sent a letter to the school district in response to controversy stirred by what some considered an act of honor to first line responders and what others felt may be racially motivated. After a football player carried the Blue Lives Matter flag across the field before the start of last Friday’s varsity game, the public responded on both sides of the issue via social media and directly to school officials, according to Dr. Hanlon’s letter.

“Based on discussions that ensued over the weekend, it does not appear that this action was motivated by racism, rather a show of support for one of our coaches who serves as a police officer, as well as for the first responders in our community who have developed a special relationship with our school and students in the wake of our school tragedy of [Feb.] 27, 2012,” Dr. Hanlon wrote in his letter. “Nevertheless, it is understandable how this could be interpreted as a racially-motivated action and, therefore, not acceptable in a school community.”

Dr. Hanlon said that district policy “does not permit engagement in political activity,” but added that he understood the flying of the blue line flag could be considered political and stated that such a display “will not be a part of future pre-game activities at Chardon athletic contests.”

Mr. Spidalieri said he received an “outpouring” of response from residents as a result of Dr. Hanlon’s letter, calling on him for how to combat Dr. Hanlon’s alleged opposition to the flag. He said he wrote the letter calling for Dr. Handlon’s resignation, stating he was “sickened” by the decision to prohibit the flying of the blue line flag before future games, claiming that Dr. Hanlon is not a true representative of the people.

“As you may be unaware unlike you I actually am a true representative of the people of Geauga County voted in, and not appointed,” Mr. Spidalieri said while reading his letter out loud during the regular commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday.

Chardon school board representatives earlier in the week said they supported Dr. Hanlon’s actions.

Mr. Spidalieri has won three elections as commissioner, each opposed, he recollected, and each time, “my vote count became stronger because of my strong representation and the voice of the values and beliefs of the majority of the residents of Geauga County.”

The position of superintendent is appointed by the board of education, who are elected officials.

“Words cannot explain the anger, frustration and disappointment that I felt while reading your letter to community members,” Mr. Spidalieri continued in his letter. “As a commissioned law enforcement officer for almost 30 years and still actively commissioned I am appalled that someone in your position would take a stance that does not genuinely recognize the courage of these young men (the football players). By honoring our first responders these young men expressed gratitude, care and love for our community and our country. Your letter sickens me and so many others that have reached out to me and expressed the same disgust with your inability to stand up and recognize their patriotism.”

Mr. Spidalieri read out his request for Dr. Hanlon to step down as superintendent “so that our young men and women can learn that your behavior will not be tolerated and that a superintendent with core values of humanity, accountability, love of our country, and honor can replace you.

“You are not what represents this county and the great people that live here,” Mr. Spidalieri said after reading his letter. “We have had men and women die for what our freedom is in this country. And I am proud to stand up and thank our service men and women, our military, our police, our fire, everybody that is basically trying their best to keep us protected and safe. To be this bold in this kind of direction, this should not be tolerated by any of the residents of this county, nor from the board of education [that] promotes him to this position.”

Chester Township Trustee Walter “Skip” Claypool, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was in attendance at the commissioners’ meeting and stated that Dr. Hanlon’s “tying racism to the blue line flag” angered him. “I was incensed by his, by anybody’s effort to tie racism to our police and our first responders.”

Turning his attention to a silent Commissioner James Dvorak, “Where do you stand on this?” Mr. Claypool asked.

“I love my country and always support the first responders and police,” Mr. Dvorak said, noting family members of his have served in police and fire departments. “My heart’s in the right place, and we should always promote the police and people that protect us every day.”

“That’s kind of a weak response, Jimmy,” Mr. Claypool responded.

Mr. Dvorak pointed out that he had only just heard about the situation through the commissioners’ meeting and Mr. Spidalieri’s letter, adding that he hasn’t seen Dr. Hanlon’s letter.

Commissioner Timothy Lennon was not present at the meeting.

Director of the Department of Water Resources Steve Oluic chimed in and agreed with Mr. Spidalieri’s letter. “The country has to decide whether we’re citizens of the United States or a bunch of tribes, and I think the only thing that’s going to help the country recover is unity and believing in [the] country,” he said, noting that he spent 27 years in the Army in active duty, claiming “half the world wants to get in this country.

Hambden Township resident Doug Lundblad, a self-proclaimed colleague of Mr. Oluic who also served 27 years in the military, said he “concurred” with Mr. Spidalieri and Mr. Oluic’s statements. “It did take guts for those kids to go out on the field,” he said. “I take offense [to the notion] that that flag stands for any kind of political representation or racism.

“If the violence continues in this country, because they’re not supporting the police, they’re going to find out how this [violence] will spread,” Mr. Lundblad added. “And all we have to do is take a stand and let the law enforcement do their jobs in this.”

“My tax dollars pay this superintendent,” Mr. Spidalieri said. “And I don’t want to support the superintendent that my tax dollars, from where I live in the Chardon school district, go to support him. Bottom line.”

“Thank God you’ve taken the position you have,” Mr. Claypool said, “because what you see is in large progressive cities, this infection where lawlessness is, is now OK.”

When asked again by another resident what he’s doing to support blue lives, Mr. Dvorak couldn’t give a course of action he would take with only finding out about the situation, but emphasized his support of police and first responders.

“[Geauga] is one of the great counties in the state of Ohio. I always support the police, the fire, everybody,” he said. “I’m appalled that [Dr.Hanlon] would connect racism with the flag, the blue line flag. It’s despicable.”

“Always remember,” Mr. Spidalieri wrote in his letter, “if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”

The Times reached out to both Dr. Hanlon and BOE President Madelon Horvath for comment, but did not receive any response prior to deadline.

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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