School board member's exit speech: Bible is 'scientifically proven'

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

A local school board member turned to an unlikely place — the Bible — in explaining his sudden resignation.

“I cannot remove myself from the Bible,” said BJ Volkert, who announced his resignation from Northeastern's school board on Sept. 6. “It is everything to me. It is everything I stand for.”

The school board has faced several controversial issues in recent months, including a student protest over changes to the dress code and a high school Diversity Day that led to allegations of bullying against LGBTQ students by parents and classmates. Volkert's resignation came amid calls for his resignation and three months after his 2021 running mate, Jamie Lagana, also resigned.

Volkert, who serves as a youth pastor at the Conewago Township-based Bible Baptist Church, said he was advised that he risked lawsuits if he "continued to say certain things as a board member." His remarks covered a wide swath of subjects, from George Washington's death to the seaworthiness of Noah's ark, in addition to references to the Bible and "The Lion King."

Former Northeastern School Board member BJ Volkert left the school board when it became clear to him he could not stay. Bible Baptist Church photo

They came amid the board's process for finding his replacement.

On Tuesday, the board named Tiedra Marshall, who works for the St. Louis-based Parents as Teachers National Center, a nonprofit that provides support services to parents of young children.

“Districts are faced with challenges such as a lack of capacity and resources,” Marshall said at an earlier meeting on Monday, making the case that the district must do more to reach out to parents.

Board president Mike Redding told Marshall and fellow newcomer Debra Riek, who replaced Lagana, that they have to run again next year if they want to finish off the two years left on their predecessors' terms. Volkert and Lagana were elected in November 2021 for four-year terms. 

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During Volkert's remarks at the Sept. 19 board meeting, he specifically referenced the Diversity Day incident last May. During discussions earlier this year, Volkert suggested students keep "sexuality" out of discussions around diversity.

Since those remarks, Volkert said he's been called “chauvinist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic and racist.”

“I wanted to clear the air," he said at the most recent board meeting. "I don’t hate any individual. I don’t hate any group of individuals. I don’t hate any way that people identify.”

An example of a campaign flyer from Jamie Lagana and BJ Volkert's 2021 campaign for school board.

Diversity Day was an attendance-optional event last spring in the high school that included an hourlong presentation of videos and tables showcasing various cultures.

Volkert, who has not responded to requests for additional comment, said some district residents and faculty members called for his resignation. He said those calls were not why he missed board meetings this summer, when he was out of the country leading Christian youth camps and mission trips.

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Volkert said the blowback from Diversity Day was not the reason for his resignation. Instead, he argued that his Christian beliefs were not compatible with his elected duties on the board.

"If Jesus Christ does not make his way back into schools, things will continue to make its way into the lives of our children that we are not fans of ultimately,” he said. 

The Northeastern School District Administrative Center in Manchester, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As he continued, Volkert's comments veered into an impassioned plea for the district to educate students based on "biblical principles" and that "certain lifestyles" left students more vulnerable to disease. During his speech, he also talked about George Washington's death being the result of the 18th-century practice of bloodletting by his doctors and said that Noah's ark was "the most seaworthy vessel." He also said that the Bible was "scientifically proven."

“There’s a book that gave us the exact dimensions for the most seaworthy vessel and that vessel sailed I believe about … 5,000 years ago,” he said. 

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Everything people do in life is meaningless, he said, if it's done without Christ.

"If I'm wrong, I'll simply rest in the dirt one day, maybe I'll turn into Mufasa in my second life," Volkert said, referring to the fictional character from "The Lion King." "If I'm right, we're going to be in front of a judge. All of us."

Volkert finished his remarks by telling board members and district staff that he harbored no ill will toward them.

The next board meeting is 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at the district administration center, 41 Harding St., Manchester. It can be watched in person or on the district's YouTube channel.

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.