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Columbia Heights board member to resign

COLUMBIA HEIGHTS — A state legislator and the leader of an Islamic civil rights group say a Columbia Heights school board member accused of making an offensive comment on Facebook about Muslims has agreed to step down.

Rep. Carolyn Laine said Monday that Grant Nichols agreed to resign from the board during a meeting Friday with her and members of several Muslim advocacy groups, including Jaylani Hussein, head of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Laine said Nichols signed a letter stating his intent to leave the board effective Tuesday.

Messages left with Nichols and the school board chairman were not immediately returned Monday.

The school district released a statement saying Nichols met with Superintendent Kathy Kelly on Monday and indicated he intended to resign at the end of Tuesday’s regular school board meeting, but also indicated he would not turn in a resignation letter until the meeting starts. With that in mind, the school district said, Nichols’s resignation has been tentatively placed on the meeting’s agenda.

“The District is not prepared to comment further until Member Nichols’ Letter of Resignation has been received and addressed as an action item at the … School Board meeting,” the statement said.

The Somali Human Rights Commission welcomed news of Nichols’ plans to resign, the group’s CEO, Omar Jamal, said Monday.

In a statement, Jamal said the group thanks Nichols for stepping down “so the school will focus more (on) education and academic achievement of its students.”

Nichols has denied writing a comment posted on Sept. 6 from his Facebook account that described the bathroom habits of Muslims as “unsanitary.”

Laine told the Star Tribune that when she met with Nichols on Friday, he had a notarized letter from a co-worker that backed up his claim that someone else wrote the comment. Laine said that letter is not being made public.

Hussein said he and others in the meeting “accepted Mr. Nichols’ letter indicating that the comment was not his and that someone had maliciously sabotaged his mobile device. We have accepted his apology and applaud his efforts to be an advocate to Muslims everywhere and especially in Columbia Heights.”

The school board held a special meeting Sept. 15, but members failed by one vote to force Nichols to resign. Students, teachers and administrators then staged a walkout and Gov. Mark Dayton urged Nichols to step down. The following week, the board passed a resolution calling for Nichols’ resignation but he refused, saying the situation was unprofessional.