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Vet to kids: Liberalism is enemy

Last modified: 11/18/2010 12:00:00 AM
At the Epsom Central School's Veterans Day assembly, Gordon Ellis asked students to repeat five words: socialism, communism, progressivism, totalitarianism and liberalism. He hoped to illustrate what he calls 'enemies of the Constitution,' but instead Ellis confused the kids, angered townspeople and ended his tenure as the head of the school board.

Ellis stepped down as board chairman at a meeting last night at the school after dozens of upset teachers and parents decried his remarks and called for his resignation. He will remain on the board, although it's unclear if he will seek re-election when his term expires next year.

This wasn't the first time Ellis's statements have made things uncomfortable around the school. In a written statement, faculty members described Ellis's 'pattern of bias and political intolerance.' They say he made anti-Muslim comments at this year's Memorial Day celebration, became upset when African music was played at an assembly and scolded teachers for including lessons about the accomplishments of African-American women.

Ellis's comments at the Veterans Day assembly were inappropriate, they said, and detracted from the school's efforts to honor service members. Fourth-grade teacher Francine Rowe read from the faculty statement while dozens of teachers stood behind her.

'Mr. Ellis told the children he would teach them evil words that were a direct threat to them,' she said. 'This smacks of brainwashing and indoctrination.'

Ellis is Epsom's road agent, a former construction worker and a Vietnam veteran. He often speaks at the school's annual assembly, which was attended this year by about 400 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade. Last night, Ellis said he wanted his remarks to be brief and memorable, which is why he asked students to repeat the words.

'I thought I would talk about what we fought against,' he said, looking down at his hands. 'These are words that are enemies of the Constitution.'

According to staff members, Ellis also described liberal philanthropist George Soros as 'the most evil person on earth.' This statement was particularly troubling to one young boy, who Rowe says worried that Soros was as dangerous as Hitler.

Tamy Anderson's children, who are in the fifth and seventh grades, refused to repeat Ellis's words but were flummoxed by the situation.

'They thought it was crazy,' she said before last night's meeting. 'They said it was really weird.'

This is not the first time Ellis has been the subject of town-wide scrutiny.

In 2006, the board of selectmen fired Ellis from his position as road agent, citing his failure to secure permits for town projects and a late budget submission, among other lapses. Hundreds of townspeople balked at the firing, lobbying for Ellis's reinstatement. When the board refused, residents attempted to oust several selectmen through a recall, but such elections aren't allowed under state law.

Ellis took the town to court and, in 2007, was re-elected to his post, receiving four times as many votes as his opponent.

Several people spoke favorably about Ellis's work as road agent last night but weren't pleased with what he said at the assembly. Rick Harkness has lived in Epsom for decades and remembers Ellis as a young man.

'I've never seen anyone grow up as much in such a short time as Gordon did when we was away in Vietnam,' Harkness said. 'He went one person and came back another. He has many strengths. He is, for instance, an excellent road agent. One of his strengths is not keeping his opinions to himself.'

Ellis agreed he 'has trouble keeping (his) mouth shut' and said he didn't mean to offend anyone.

'Different people have different meanings of the word 'liberalism,' ' he said. 'Mine is that it's just another word for socialism. The end result is the same against the Constitution. . . . I had no clue it would come off so badly. I had no intention for it to come off so badly or cause the ruckus it did.'

School board members supported Ellis's resignation as chairman with a voice vote and will decide on his replacement at next month's meeting. Some residents want Ellis to leave the board entirely, but the state allows for the forcible removal of a school board member only when that board member has misused money or revealed certain types of information discussed in nonpublic sessions.

Staff members at the school remain upset over the situation but think Ellis did the right thing last night.

'What you did hurt me, hurt a lot of people because we have different beliefs,' said fifth-grade teacher Jane Fargo. 'But I do respect what you did tonight.'

(Meg Heckman can be reached at 369-3313 or mheckman@cmonitor.com.)


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