UPDATE: Pro-Life teen speaks out on the controversy.
The Dean of Academics and Student Life at Downingtown STEM Academy in Chester County has been placed on administrative leave after a video surfaced of him yelling at pro-life teenagers last Friday.
The video, posted on YouTube by one of the teens, showed a heated verbal exchange between Dr. Zach Ruffs and a 16-year-old protesting the “holocaust of abortion.”
The argument transpired as students were leaving school for the day. Ruff appeared to be directing traffic away from the school when the incident was recorded.
“Innocent children are being murdered in our society,” declared one of the protesting teens in video footage.
“They’re not children. They’re cells. Go home!” yelled Ruff.
“Sir, you need to turn to Jesus Christ,” the teen responded.
“Listen here, son. I am as gay as as the day is long. I don’t give an (expletive) what Jesus tells me about what I should and should not be doing. You are harassing public school students and I will call the police if you don’t shut up,” Ruff said.
“You’re acting very immaturely. I’m 16 and you’re yelling at me,” said the teen. “The truth is Jesus Christ died on a cross and rose again. You can be set free from your sins.”
The teenager recorded the incident and then uploaded it to both YouTube and his Facebook page. Several people commented, including students from STEM Academy who witnessed the altercation.
One Facebook user, who identified herself as a student at STEM, said the protesters were blocking traffic and distracting drivers with graphic images of aborted fetuses.
“Mr. Ruff had every right to defend his students. What they are not showing in this video is what the posters actually depicted. There was a horrendous image of a dead baby covered in blood. This image distracted me and I almost rear-ended the person in front of me,” she wrote.
Downingtown Area School District posted a message on its Facebook page regarding the incident:
“We do not condone or support the conduct expressed in the video and are deeply disappointed that this incident occurred. His conduct does not represent the values of the school district or the respect we expect our employees to show for the civil rights of others,” the statement said.
Ruff will remain on leave pending a formal investigation, said Patricia McGlone, director of public information for the Downingtown School District. Parents will have the opportunity to express their concerns during this time.
Parent Rebecca Ziserman Cesarz, who graduated from the school district and now has a senior enrolled at STEM, said many in the community are standing behind Ruff. A Drexel alum, Ruff has worked in the school district for 10 years and is popular with both students and faculty. A hashtag, IstandwithasstprincipalRuff, has been created to show solidarity.
“The bottom line is Ruff is a really good guy,” Cesarz said. “A lot of students, parents, administrators, teachers really love him. It’s a small school and he’s a big part of it.”
Cesarz described Ruff as a “big teddy bear who has a great sense of humor.” He dressed as Dr. Who one Halloween, she said.
Cesarz's friend attempted to email Ruff but said his account has been disabled. She hopes he will not be fired.
“[STEM] is a great place to send your kids,” she said. “It’s unfortunate there is this collision of social media and social commentary and it’s going to cost someone who doesn’t deserve to have his career ruined by something like this.”
The teenager who filmed the incident is part of a Christian activist network called Project Frontlines that speaks out against abortion. It is not clear why they chose to protest outside STEM on that particular day. Requests for a comment were not immediately returned.