More than 40,000 people have signed an online petition in support of a suspended Chester County school administrator.
Zach Ruff, the dean of academics and student life at Downingtown STEM Academy, was placed on administrative leave after a video of him yelling and swearing at two teenage abortion protesters outside the school surfaced last week.
“He’s passionate about his students and his job, and I think it overtook him,” said 15-year-old Zach Ng, an academy sophomore, who started the petition with three other students.
In the video, Ruff can be seen telling the protesters, later identified in reports as 16-year-old Connor Haines and his sister, Lauren, to leave the sidewalk outside the school to leave. He threatens to call the police.
“These children are being murdered in our society,” said Connor Haines, referring to pictures on their signs.
“They’re not children, they’re cells,” retorted Ruff.
At the end, Ruff is pacing and singing “I Love a Parade” over the protesters.
After footage of the altercation surfaced last week, the school district put Ruff on administrative leave as it began investigating the incident.
Since that time, “I have received passionate emails both in support of, and against, our decision to place this staff member on paid administrative leave pending an investigation,” said superintendent Lawrence Mussoline, in a statement.
From the anti-Ruff camp, a Facebook group called “Fire Zach Ruff of Downingtown STEM Academy” is circulating coverage of the video, including a Fox News interview of the protesters by host Tucker Carlson. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian advocacy organization, has also weighed in, saying Ruff attempted to “rip a sign out of [protestors’] hands in a manner that legally constitutes assault,” and calling on the school district to educate its faculty on free speech law.
Meanwhile, Zach and Academy students Jacob Lemler, Joey Cottingham and Abheek Pandhya keep circulating their petition with the hope of influencing school officials to keep Ruff on staff. Many of the thousands signers are not from the district — or from even from the state — and simply leave generic messages of support. Others are more specific.
“As a former STEM student, Mr. Ruff is loving and wants nothing but the best for his students,” said one identified as Sam F.