Philadelphia News & Search
An assistant principal at the prestigious Downingtown STEM Academy has been placed on paid leave after being videotaped cursing at two teenage abortion protesters on school property, telling them that aborted fetuses were “cells,” that he was gay and didn’t “give a [expletive] about Jesus,” and then loudly singing “I Love a Parade,” apparently to drown out the pair.
The epic meltdown happened on April 21 as Zach Ruff, 40, the Dean of Academics and Student Life, confronted the brother-sister protesters while cars were leaving school at the end of the day. The two, identified as Connor and Lauren Haines, held religious and anti-abortion signs as students drove past.
Last Thursday, as the cringe-inducing video spread online and students – along with the rest of the nation — learned what happened, several started a petition asking the Downingtown Area School District not to fire the well-liked Ruff, who has worked there 14 years. The petition, which now has more than 21,000 signatures, said Ruff was a “crucial and valuable” employee and that he has tried to make sure “that his students are safe and have a comfortable environment to learn in.”
Watch the video (warning, it includes offensive language):
The district, however, has strongly condemned his actions, issuing an apology on its website and saying it has launched an investigation.
“We are so dismayed, so dismayed,” said Patricia McGlone, a spokesman for the 12,000-student district, the eighth-largest in the state. “We don’t condone or support [Ruff’s actions]. We believe those students had a right to be out there on public sidewalks.”
Ruff could not be reached for comment.
Superintendent Lawrence Mussoline said in a statement that he hired Ruff as one of two assistant principals at the the 787-student science and technology high school, twice named the top public school in the state. He said he has “a lot of respect for” Ruff, but his “comportment” was “something that I would never have expected from this educational leader.”
Mussoline said he had received passionate emails both for and against Ruff, some suggesting that the incident did not merit a suspension. “I disagree,” the superintendent said, noting that the altercation had become national news. “We need to insure that nothing like this happens again.”
In the 10-minute video, Ruff can be seen coming out of the school to tell the pair that they had to leave. The confrontation escalated when the two said they were on a public sidewalk and were allowed to be there. Ruff put himself between them and the line of cars, as if trying to block students from seeing the signs. He waved as they drove by.
Soon both sides were threatening to call the police.
The encounter got heated when the teens started talking about the “holocaust of abortion,” and Ruff barked, “They’re cells…You’re at a science-based school.” At one point he said, “You can go to hell, where they are too,’” motioning toward the sign.
During the confrontation, he also snapped, “You and Trump can go to hell.”
Later, Connor Haines said, “Sir, you need to turn to Jesus Christ.”
“I’m as gay as the day is long, and twice as sunny,” Ruff declared. “I don’t give a [expletive] what Jesus tells me and what I should and should not be doing.”
Things got even worse from there. Ruff repeatedly told the teens they had no right showing the abortion pictures to his students, whom he called “innocent kids.” He claimed Downingtown STEM hadn’t had a pregnancy or abortion in the past five years.
The school district said it did not know where Conner and Lauren Haines lived, or what school they attended. Neither could not be reached for comment. But in an interview with a Christian news site, The Liberator, Conner Haines said he didn’t expect such “hostility” at a school. “When [Ruff] was up in my face, my heart started beating crazy fast. But I wasn’t really scared because I had my camera running, there were many people watching, and God has always protected me in the past,” said Haines, who reportedly is 16.
During the dispute, an unidentified man entered the scene and defended the protesters, saying they were on public property. “He can do whatever the [expletive] he wants,” the man said, just inches from Ruff’s face. When Ruff threatened to call police, the man walked away saying, “Another loony, wacko liberal.”
As the Haineses started shouting out to students, Ruff took a new approach. Instead of shouting, he turned to singing, and even appeared to dance a bit.
Ruff recently received his doctorate in educational leadership and management from Drexel University. Previously, he had been a social studies teacher and assistant principal at Downingtown High School East.
Zach Ng, 15, one of four students who started the petition, said students overwhelmingly support Ruff, even though they recognize his behavior was “inappropriate.”
“He lost his temper,“ he said.
He called Ruff “the heart and soul” of the STEM Academy. “His spirit is what makes the school a success. He’s one of the most popular people there. There’s unanimous love for that guy, no matter what,” he said.
He said students plan to attend the next school board meeting on May 10 to speak on Ruff’s behalf and present their petition.
“We all support him,” he said, “and want to see him back in his office next year.”
Philadelphia News & Search