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Norwalk BoE answers Morris’ claims, asks judge to toss lawsuit

Norwalk Board of Education member Mike Lyons, at a recent BoE meeting in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — Mike Lyons’ words might be “tartly put” but their meaning was merely to put Norwalk Public Schools’ best interests ahead of the interests of a select few.

So said a lawyer representing the Norwalk Board of Education and the City, firing back at an attorney for former State Rep. Bruce Morris.

The reply filed Friday seeks to persuade a Stamford Superior Court judge to issue a decision without a trial in the lawsuit filed by Morris, alleging discrimination and retaliation in the elimination of his job as NPS Schools Climate Coordinator. It contains snippets of depositions that weren’t included in recent pleadings, more of the BoE’s side of the story, and an account of the 2015 superintendent search.

Defendants in the suit say Morris’ job was cut strictly for budgetary reasons. The decision was made by Superintendent Steven Adamowski, who did not consider the opinion of Board of Education members, they say.

Morris’s attorney Daniel Angelone argues that evidence shows racist and discriminatory attitudes towards Morris and other black Norwalkers.

The accusations amount to “naked speculation about a purported years-long conspiracy by the BOE to terminate {Morris’} employment,” an “unsupported political fantasy” resultant from “misperceived self-aggrandizement,” suffering from “a paucity of admissible evidence,” attorney Dennis Duaro wrote in a brief arguing for a summary judgement.

Angelone in his April 26 pleading cited emails written in 2015 by Lyons, then-BoE Chairman, in which Lyons called Morris a “snake” and one of the “Four Horsemen” who opposed reform efforts and needed to be eliminated. Lyons mentioned “southern crackers” to belittle Morris for seeking the best for the black community, Angelone said.

“Only by cherry picking a handful of statements from a smattering of private, old emails and self-servingly cobbling them together” can Morris support his claim of discrimination, Duaro wrote in the Friday filing.

Calling Morris one of the “Four Horsemen” doesn’t come with any discriminatory undertones and the group included two Caucasian administrators,” Duaro wrote.

Lyons in 2012 took shots at Morris for objecting to a curriculum choice, claiming that southern crackers would agree with Morris, describing Morris’ opinion as “‘everyone but blacks can learn, ’cause blacks are inferior.”

Lyons 2012 email re CK curriculum.aspx

Morris’ job was eliminated in 2016.

A “fair reading” of Lyons’ email “reveals that Lyons expressed confidence that minority students could thrive” under the new curriculum choice, and “a non-decisionmaker’s single reference to race in a communication about a curriculum dispute more than four years before the challenged employment action is not sufficient evidence to survive” the court process on summary judgment, Duaro wrote.

The 2015 superintendent search featured the three minority BoE members “effectively” refusing to support a non-black candidate, he wrote.

“Rosa (Murray), Shirley (Mosby), and Migdalia (Rivas) were pushing for us to hire a black superintendent,” Lyons testified, in a deposition offered in Friday’s filing. “Which Shirley made very clear, because he was black, she thought that the kids needed to see somebody with the same skin color.”

The candidate was in his first job as a superintendent, managing a school system with 3,500 kids versus the 11,500 in Norwalk Public Schools, Lyons said.

“It was not an urban school district. And we had no basis to believe that he was going to have the wherewithal to come in here and clean all of this stuff up….as a super,” Lyons said. “…Adamowski had a reputation shared by the people who hated him, as much as by the people who loved him, as a tough guy who would come in and really shake things up.”

Lyons also testified that when Morris’ position was cut, as part of budget cuts, it came down to Morris or a security position, “and particularly in the wake of the mass shootings and like Orlando, we couldn’t see the elimination of that part of the school system,” Lyons said.

“Plaintiff’s espoused conspiracy ignores a history of preferential treatment he received,” Duaro wrote. “For instance, in 2012, rather than be laid off with 80 other employees after the BOE was appropriated $5 million less than the amount requested, plaintiff’s job was merely reduced on request of the then- Superintendent. If the reduction was a discriminatory act, then it was endorsed by two minority BOE members.”

Morris “was one of twenty-four employees laid off due to budgetary issues, one of three positions cut within Central Office – the other two held by Caucasians – and Dr. Adamowski has proffered legitimate reasons for choosing the Central Office positions cut,” Duaro wrote. “… {T}hat Dr. Adamowski and plaintiff continued to discuss a potential retirement package through the very end of June 2016 is totally incongruent with a conspiracy to terminate plaintiff for retaliatory purposes.”

The case is set to be in front of the judge on June 3.

Morris v BoE 19-0510 defendants reply

5 comments

Enough May 13, 2019 at 5:19 am

Lyons said. “…Adamowski had a reputation shared by the people who hated him, as much as by the people who loved him, as a tough guy who would come in and really shake things up.” That line speaks volumes.

Piberman May 13, 2019 at 7:22 am

Shouldn’t claims of discrimination by iCity employees be adjudicated in our courts rather than in the press ? Both the performance and reputation of Norwalk’s BOE i has improved dramatically in recent years and is far and away our City’s most respected Board.

John ONeill May 14, 2019 at 2:39 pm

Quick question on that candidate in 3,500 pupil school district that wasn’t hired: Is he still in that school district? Has he been successful? Just curious — Have no idea or agenda here..

Mike Barbis May 14, 2019 at 11:37 pm

John O’Neill: the candidate from the 3500 student school district has stayed an additional 4 years and just announced he is moving to another school district in NJ. FYI

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