Despite an outpouring of support, a Downingtown STEM Academy administrator has resigned in the wake of increased pressure from school officials and members of the community.
Assistant Dean of Academics and Student Life Dr. Zach Ruff sent a letter to the Downingtown Area School District Thursday afternoon announcing his decision to step down.
The announcement came less than 24 hours after dozens of supporters attended a school board meeting in hopes of saving Ruff's job.
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"After considering this situation in total, its divisive impact on the community, the reaction from his students, and the attention this situation has garnered nationally, it is clear to us that Dr. Ruff decided that the best thing for his students, the School District, and the community was to resign from employment effective at the close of business on Thursday, May 11, 2017," the school district said in a statement.
"He acknowledged that his conduct cannot be defended or condoned and he deeply regretted his actions as displayed on the video."
The embattled administrator had been under investigation after a video surfaced showing him screaming at a 16-year-old who was protesting abortion outside STEM on April 21.
The video went viral almost overnight. It spread throughout the country and even across the pond to England and beyond. School district officials were looking into the incident and debating whether Ruff acted inappropriately by berating the demonstrator.
He was suspended without pay last week.
But nothing would quell emotions from both supporters and detractors. What should have been a typical school board meeting Wednesday night turned into a referendum on Ruff's fate.
A small army of students, parents and community members wearing green T-shirts emblazoned with the words “I Support Dr. Ruff” packed into the school district meeting.
Several others came prepared with impassioned statements against the administrator, who they said became unhinged and unprofessional during the ordeal.
Both sides waited more than two hours to present their cases.
An industrious sophomore from STEM Academy came armed with an online petition pleading to keep Ruff on staff. It had more than 52,000 signatures from all over the world.
“It was weird seeing Dr. Ruff do that,” said student Zack Ng, who authored the petition. “When you think of Dr. Ruff, he’s like a teddy bear the way he’s always cheerful. [The video] was a totally different side of him we had never seen before."
Ng did not witness the altercation between Ruff and the demonstrators, which lasted more than 20 minutes. However, after watching the video, he was moved to act on Ruff’s behalf.
“I can’t really condone anything that happened in the video, but I know that behind it there was a good intent," he said.
In the days following the incident, rumors swirled. Students struggled to parse fact from fiction and the teens behind the video enlisted the legal aid of a conservative group called the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Conner Haines, the teen seen arguing with Ruff, insisted in an email to NBC10 that he never intended for Ruff to get fired. He wanted an apology and the right to protest outside STEM without interruption.
While Ruff’s fate hanged in the balance Wednesday night, some students hoped their support would sway officials to keep Ruff.
“It’s not the same without him. He’s such a positive influence on everyone there,” said Drew Spanfellner, a junior at STEM.
But not everyone wanted to see Ruff return.
Downingtown resident Roger Carlson has two children who graduated from the school district. Now, three of his grandchildren attend schools in the area. He was one of the detractors who spoke against Ruff, arguing that the administrator acted inappropriately by berating the protesting teens.
"I saw a key leader in our school who I think is unfit to be ... in any position at the STEM Academy," he said. "He became unhinged and unglued so quickly."
Carlson said his position was not about abortion, but instead about the reaction he saw on that video.
"It's unfortunate that we had a man ... who lost sight of his professionalism."