The wild conspiracy theories and divisiveness of the Trump era were on display at the Elmbrook School District board meeting last Tuesday night. The board met to decide when and how students would return to in-person learning at Elmbrook schools. During the “citizen’s comment” portion of the meeting, parent Heidi Anderson made some now-infamous remarks about face masks while singling out Brookfield physician Mushir Hassan for criticism.
At the three-and-a-half hour meeting, the board decided that in early September, Elmbrook schools will open for in-person learning with a virtual option. Masks will be required for students and teachers attending in person.
A variety of news sources have focused on Anderson’s reaction to the mask requirement, which is also making the rounds on social media: “Six-foot distance and wearing masks are pagan rituals of satanic worshipers,” Heidi Anderson said. “My kids are Christian. They are not subject to wearing masks.”
But Anderson’s lengthy comments also included an attack on Elmbrook School District board member Dr. Mushir Hassan, an internal medicine physician at Ascension Brookfield and the only Muslim on the board.
At the meeting Tuesday night, the Elmbrook school board had also passed a resolution to establish a medical advisory board to provide recommendations to the board and supervisor’s office on safety data and infection thresholds during the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. Dr. Hassan and another board member, Glen Allgaier, were appointed as liaisons.
Heidi Anderson had a problem with that, at least as far as Dr. Hassan was concerned.
Anderson began by calling Dr. Hassan by his first name and mispronouncing it. “Dr. Mushar,” she said, “and I hope I’m saying this correctly, you are not the right choice to be the board liaison. You do not practice in infectious disease, you have political leanings contrary to the will of this district. You online stated that you’re a big Obama fan and you comply mentally with his control philosophy, and,” she continued, her voice nearly breaking with anger, “you have publicly slammed our president, Trump, on line.”
Dr. Hassan said later that Anderson had evidently been doing some “light internet stalking” of his Facebook page, where he has been critical of both Trump and Obama policies.
Anderson made no mention of Allgaier’s qualifications to be on the committee. Allgaier trained as an electrical engineer and was the executive research director at Eaton Corp. before retiring.
Both board president Scott Wheeler and vice-president Jean Lambert tried to interrupt Anderson’s rant, but she refused to stop talking. “I’m finishing,” Anderson said. Then she continued, “As a leader in the Islamic community –”
Wheeler briefly interrupted her, “Heidi, we have to avoid defamatory comments.”
She replied, “This is not defamatory. I’m stating facts.” Turning back to Dr. Hassan, she said, “You are a leader in the Islamic community are you not? I believe you’re on the board –”
Dr. Hassan, who is on the board of ISM-West, quietly replied, “I am.”
“Okay!” Anderson said. “Well, listen. My kids are Christian. They are not subject to wearing face coverings. Christian children should not be forced to wear face coverings, any more than children who are Islamic or Muslim should be forced, as you put it, be subject to the American style of sexualization of children and have to be wearing less clothing than you’re comfortable having your children wearing.”
In the same emotional vein, Anderson then discussed her family’s war record before working her way back to the mask issue. “My family has for generations fought for freedom all the way back to the Civil War. I have relatives who have fought and died and paid the ultimate price to ensure that their children and grandchildren and generations to come could live in a free, representative republic that guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These draconian measures, for a disease that has very low morbidity, which is much less likely to happen to our kids than their getting in a car accident and dying or their grandparents falling in the nursing home, is draconian, socialist tactics and overreach. You are employed by the people of Brookfield and Elm Grove. You are elected to serve. The Elmbrook School Administration works at our pleasure. You do not work for Madison or any other unelected entity.”
Her voice almost breaking with emotion, Anderson continued, “Our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people. This is one country. One nation under God. And we look to God for these answers when we can’t figure it out. And I would suggest that you all do that. There’s a wonderful prayer He taught us to pray. It’s called the Lord’s prayer, and you can find it in your Bible.”
In reference to Anderson’s remark that the actions taken by the board on Tuesday do not reflect the will of the district, Chris Thompson, Elmbrook School District chief strategy officer, said, “There is nothing that she said that reflects any part of our community.”
On Wednesday, the Elmbrook Schools website posted what was called a “Direct Response to Citizen’s Comments.”
The post does not refer to Anderson by name but refers to the remarks she made as “targeted and defamatory” and “beyond the boundaries of acceptable conduct.” The post apologized to Dr. Hassan for what occurred during the meeting, referring to him as a “valued member” of both the school board and the community and said that he “deserved an immediate response that did not come soon enough.”
Reaction to Anderson’s speech on social media was immediate. A number of supporters posted on Dr. Hassan’s Facebook page. One Elmbrook parent said the district was “extremely lucky” to have Dr. Hassan on the board. “His leadership and expertise have been invaluable to the community,” the post said.
In a post on Dr. Hassan’s Facebook page, Imam Noman Hussain of ISM-West said he was “extremely grateful for the swift action taken” by the Elmbrook school board.”
When reached for comment, Dr. Hassan said that “for the most part” reaction to Tuesday night’s incident “has been positive and conciliatory as well as expressing dismay that someone would make such abject racist commentary” at a public meeting.
Anderson’s remarks, Dr. Hassan said, show “the importance of having consistent, data-driven leadership in place.” He also said that “given the outpouring of support, I feel fully confident about continuing to be a member of the board.”