News Story

Superintendent Calls GOP Reps 'Moron' and 'Mental Midget' In Right-to-Work Debate

A public school superintendent in the Grand Rapids area used his personal Twitter account to refer to one GOP politician as a “moron” and another as a “mental midget.”

He also sent a tweet questioning whether “white folk” were concerned about urban schools.

David Britten, superintendent Godfrey-Lee School District, made the comments about GOP representatives Dave Agema, R-Grandville, and Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, on Dec. 12 while linking to right-to-work stories that appeared on news sites.

On Dec. 12, Britten tweeted, “Suppose there are a few morons on both sides of issue: Rep. Dave Agema says on Facebook he's 'enjoying' furor”

That same day, Britten tweeted, “Rep. Lyons thinks her husband is special but teachers & other union members are crap. What a mental midget.” That tweet appears to have been deleted from his account after Michigan Capitol Confidential sent Britten an email asking him about his posts. 

The non-profit group Little People of America considers the word “midget” to be “highly offensive and obscene to the dwarfism community.”

Then, later, Britten tweeted: “Seems like all of a sudden, white folk are genuinely concerned about urban schools as they move back into cities.”

Britten, who had a salary of $105,553 in 2011, didn’t respond to requests for comment. He also has a blog where he attacks privatization in schools and Dick DeVos.

Joel Haber, a national expert on cyber bulling from New York, said Britten’s comments didn't amount to cyber bullying because it didn't involve children.

"However, you can ask yourself instead, if his offensive comments are appropriate for a person in his position to role model to others in his district?" Haber said.

Leon Drolet, president of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, called Britten’s tweets "an embarrassment."

“He’s not an example," Drolet said. "Unprofessional behavior shouldn’t be tolerated by a school district. I think what he is using Twitter to do is to display who he really is to the community, which is a narrow-minded person."

Rep. Agema said he defends Britten’s right to use his private Twitter account to say what he wants.

"I just happen to not agree with him. But if he wants to call us morons, that's fine," Rep. Agema said. "People like that are the ones who were unable to negotiate good contracts that were within their budget so we had to take action."

Rep. Lyons said she thinks the “white folks” tweet was a shot at her. She said she and Britten had been communicating on Dec. 11 via email about education reform legislation. She said she wrote a letter to MLive in support of the turn-around effort in the Grand Rapids Public Schools.

"Any school that puts students first will find an advocate in me, regardless of what color my skin is," she said.

Rep. Lyons, who is chair of the House Education Committee, said Britten's comments on Twitter were over the line.

"I guess when you don't have a good argument, you resort to name calling," Rep. Lyons said. "Twitter can be a very valuable tool to spread information, but I find it highly unprofessional for a school leader who is in charge of educating our children to call the chair of the House Education Committee names. It doesn't seem like a very good strategy to get things accomplished to me."

The American Association of School Administrators featured Britten for his use of Twitter in the August 2012 edition of their newsletter. 

The article states:

For Britten, Twitter fits his philosophy of transparent leadership by providing him with a vehicle to communicate on the move to staff, students, parents and his board of education. He links Twitter to the district’s web page, his personal blogs and the district’s Facebook page, which he personally manages. 'One of the immediate benefits of real-time communication is the growing level of trust between my administration and the professional staff,' Britten explains.

On a recent Mackinac Center "Context and Performance" study, Lee High in the Godfrey-Lee School District was ranked as one of the top in the state.