NORWALK, Conn. – Three Norwalk Board of Education members referred to as “The Trio” were commonly left out of email communications regarding board business, according to revelations in a lawsuit against outgoing Board Chair Mike Lyons.
Then-Board members Shirley Mosby, Migdalia Rivas and Rosa Murray complained in 2014 and 2015, as the Board was discussing important topics in public, that they had been left out of the loop. Court documents from the case filed by former Special Education Director Christina Fensore against Lyons provide evidence in support of those claims.
Lyons on April 24 testified that it was common to leave The Trio out of email exchanges, according to a transcript included in the court documents.
Fensore’s lawyers established that Board member Sherelle Harris was also excluded.
“Sherelle was a floater. She wasn’t aligned with anybody,” Lyons testified, according to the transcript, with Fensore’s lawyer going on to establish that the Board members included in emails were white, and those left out were African American or Hispanic.
In one exchange with the lawyers, Lyons said he hadn’t included Harris in an email discussion because she wasn’t part of the majority group, made up of Mike Barbis, Heidi Keyes, Artie Kassimis, Bryan Meek and Lyons.
A July 2015 email sent by Lyons to convey a surprise announcement of $500,000 worth of unbudgeted Special Education consultant bills was not sent to The Trio nor Harris.
Fensore was slammed as part of that email conversation and Lyons spoke the U.S. Attorney in New Haven conducting an informal compliance review of SpEd, English Language Learners, “human trafficking (!) and the ‘school to prison pipeline’ nonsense.”
“A tough cookie like (Maureen) Ruby may be what’s needed in SPED going forward; she has no tolerance for stupidity or obstructionism,” Lyons wrote on July 6, 2015. “Rosa was a complete waste as Finance Chair. I appointed her as a peace gesture, never got so much as a thank you, and remained under non-stop attack anyway. Like the rest of the Quartet, Rosa talks but does no actual work. After November there will be a new Finance Chair; hopefully a good one.”
Asked about leaving four Board members out of email exchanges, Lyons in a Sept. 9 email said, “There are some matters I communicate with the whole Board on, some I communicate on with like-minded members of the Board only, some I communicate with individual Board members only, based on the subject matter. This is no different than on any other elected body. For some reason this absolutely common practice, which no one objects to when it happens in congress, or the state legislature, or the common council, becomes a problem here?”
Others see a problem.
Former Kendall Elementary School Principal Tony Ditrio, who has clashed with the Board on a range of issues and was referred to by Lyons in an e-mail as one of the “four horsemen” blocking reforms in Norwalk Public Schools, objects, connecting it to the complaint Rivas and Mosby filed alleging racism on the Board.
“I think it is quite evident that Mr. Lyons, Mr. Barbis and Mr. Meek conspired to keep other members uninformed about important Board business and shared rude e-mails that made unconfirmed allegations about present and former employees,” Ditrio said in an email. “Mr. Lyons routinely carries on Board business on his own and speaks in public forums without making it clear that his opinions are his and not representations of the Board. By his own admission in his deposition he acknowledges the isolation of certain Board members. This is clear in spite of his public denials when he was confronted by Ms. Murray, Ms. Rivas and Ms. Mosby and the NAACP.”
Rivas and Mosby in 2014 filed a complaint with the NAACP, alleging disparate treatment, exclusion, lack of transparency, “not being informed” and discrimination.
Rivas never issued any public statements that NancyOnNorwalk is aware of; at a 2014 Democratic Town Committee meeting she decried what she said was a lack of support from Democrats.
Mosby echoed those comments, saying, “Three elected officials, three female, women, have stood up and said something is wrong.”
She refused to provide the public with evidence of discrimination, leading to Freedom of Information Act complaints, including one by NancyOnNorwalk. Mosby prevailed in the hearing process that followed.
Then-Norwalk Branch NAACP President Darnell Crosland in 2014 said the racist treatment of the three was not related to any specific incident but was instead “cumulative,” mentioning charges Rivas, Mosby and Rosa Murray had made about being left out of email exchanges.
Lyons denied that repeatedly. Everyone gets the same information, he said at the time, asserting that he’d asked for evidence to the contrary and none had been provided.
Sead, in an August email, said, “Shirley Mosby, Rosa Murray, and Migdalia Rivas said that they were kept out of the loop on things. They talked about the cliques in the Board of Ed. Most people including members of the DTC wrote those claims off.”
On Saturday, Sead said he’s happy that the truth is coming out.
“Many people did not believe, Mrs. Murray, Ms. Mosby, nor Ms. Rivas, and I think that it’s a part of why they are not on the board any longer,” Sead said in an email. “When you know the Board Chair Mr. Lyons, withheld information from his fellow elected Board members; it brings into question the inclusiveness of all of the Boards decisions, when it comes to the community. The community deserves to be a part of the process.”
Board member Yvel Crevecoeur recently resigned, citing health reasons. District A Democrats are choosing a replacement for Crevecoeur on Monday evening.
Mosby failed in her bid for reelection, after the Democratic Town Committee declined to endorse her. Lyons is not running for reelection as chairman; the Board is electing new leadership Tuesday.
“When I look at the Board now, we definitely have work to do,” Sead wrote. “We are most likely going to have an all white board. Every board member has an obligation to make sure Latinos and African Americans are a part of the decision making process, if they want to take steps in the right direction. They also have an awesome responsibility to change the way the board operates. With the work ahead new board members deserve a fair chance to do ‘excellent’ work. We have a lot of work to do, and I hope that the four new board members will be seeds of change.”
Mosby on Oct. 8 declined to comment, given that the Fensore lawsuit is still open. She did not respond to a Saturday email.
Crevecoeur on Sept. 5 said he was unaware of the testimony in the Fensore case. Asked if he was excluded from “cliques” he said he didn’t know. On Sunday, he said he would have no comment on any Board of Education issues.
Harris, who did not run for re-election, in an Sept. 7 email, said:
“I’d wondered why you asked Yvel and I the questions you asked last night, but after looking over your site and the lawsuit filed against Mike Lyons, I realized why. There have been things I have long known and if I’d been approached more for my mind in respect for my opinion, rather the cliquish BS on the one hand, and tabloid gossip, on the other, I would have freely shared my thoughts. I’ve been at a point in my life for the past four to five years where I don’t cast my pearls before swine any more even if it makes me appear a certain way, or makes me appear to know nothing. I know truth.
Some people are just ruthless and not worth the time They want your help and opinions, but are too insecure and/or selfish to allow you the things that go with wisdom and knowledge. The funny thing is that they usually don’t realize their dysfunction or they think they have that type of control until life catches up with them. I signed up to help children not feed egos or be a part of some insignificant, short-sighted power structure that can’t see past themselves or their own gain while purporting to care about others. It amazes me that many insincere leaders think people are stupid enough to fall for rope-a-dope tactics. The scary thing is that some people do!
“I have never been one to easily cry racism. That is way too easy when you are dealing with ignorance, but yes, I do see racism and can probably back up claims if I choose to go that route. Ignorance takes on a different type of challenge.
“I love challenges and understand well that some challenges require a special girding of a power that is more innate than ostensible if you want to win. Because ignorance doesn’t like to lose even if it knows it is wrong, you just know that the challenge will require going to war or to trial. My first mind has never been to hurt others, but there are times when things need to be exposed when others are adversely affected by them and the opposition doesn’t care to listen to reason as long as they get what they want. Who wants to be around such people? Who wants their crap in their mental rolodex. Right now, my focus is children and their families, particularly the underserved, a focus I have had along with goals I have have accomplished long before being elected to the Norwalk Board of Education. The funny thing is that I have accomplished more off the board, than on. My prayer is that those who have been marginalized in a polarized society don’t get so tired that they give up on themselves.
“See my quotes below describe my state of mind at present.
Society is like a stew. If you don’t keep it stirred up, you get a lot of scum on top.
American Author (1927-1989)
A democratic society depends upon an informed and educated citizenry.
3rd U.S. President (1801-1809)
All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.
Greek Philosopher (384 BC – 322 BC)
Asked for comment Saturday, Harris called it “old news” and said she is “more interested in learning about the positives of the new board.”