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Norwalk BoE & Mayoral candidates CONECT with racial, gun issues

The Rev. Ray Dancy leads a segment of the CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut)non-partisan Candidates Action Assembly, Tuesday at Grace Baptist Church.

The election is Nov. 5.

NORWALK, Conn. – From racial disparities to religious accommodations, Norwalk Board of Education candidates have been put on the record with their responses to questions asked by a community action group of united religious congregations.

Mayoral candidates were queried on firearms, religious security and immigration issues by CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut).

Videos of the candidates at end of story

Every candidate answered yes to a series of simple questions, then were given time to expound on the issues. Incumbent Board of Education members Mike Barbis and Bryan Meek assured the crowd in Grace Baptist Church that the Board is already working on these issues.

The the CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut)non-partisan Candidates Action Assembly, Tuesday at Grace Baptist Church.

The event, held Tuesday, culminated with Yolanda Skinner saying, “The time has come for the BoE to change its tone so that Norwalker have confidence that the BoE cares for every child. This is what we’re hoping for in our BoE candidates…Should you be elected? Will you commit to working with CONECT and meeting with us again on these various issues that we’re talking about tonight?

Every candidate stood to say yes.

“The reason why we do that, make you stand up, is because we have witnesses,” Skinner said. “… You can’t go back on your word because we have witnesses and we have photos and we have video.”

 

Addressing bias

“These incidents in the recent weeks are upsetting,” a Brien McMahon High School freshman said to the candidates and the crowd.

As part of a CONECT technique of explaining issues, she described recent anti-Semitic incidents, comments she had overheard in school, the word “Jew” used in a “derogatory manner.” She also referred to the racial slurs against African Americans that were recently found in a computer lab at the school.

“The term Jew is not an insult, but it is dangerous for our community to not take action to address these incidents. It’s an especially scary feeling in a learning environment where children are supposed to feel safe,” she said.

A presentation at the CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut)non-partisan Candidates Action Assembly, Tuesday at Grace Baptist Church.

The candidates were asked if they would support a policy of annual and ongoing anti-bias training for all Norwalk Public School teachers and staff. The answer was yes. The same answer was given when they were asked if they would support a no homework policy on school holidays as well as other religious holidays. Finally, they were asked how you would “address the problem of bias in our schools.”

District D

“A lot of there has been a lot of effort put in by the school system to work on this,” said Meek, a Republican seeking reelection to represent District D after one four-year term. “We do need to continue our efforts in that area. We did have a professional day, that was coordinated by CONECT last year that probably needs to be modified, fine-tuned, but we learned from what we did and move forward and we do what’s best. As far as the homework policy, there is a policy on the board for attendance…it probably needs more teeth.”

His Democratic opponent, Erica DePalma, expanded on her yes answer by suggesting that the policy should also apply to sports. Also, “I’m also a big proponent of social emotional learning. I think it should be standardized across the entire district because it does teach cultural awareness as well as empathy and also proponent of Positive Behavioral Intervention standards, which allow us to standardize how we teach children.”

District A

Moving to District A, Republican candidate Alexandra Kemeny, a retired teacher, said, “Truly the only way to eliminate bias is through education. Ignorance is generally always the source of prejudice or bias. Therefore, educating the educators and giving them the tools to help them address situations when they happen is important but more important is to educate before prejudice and bias develops.”

Her Democratic opponent, Godfrey Azima, said that in his education career he’d been part of initiatives to undo racism.

“Hurt people hurt people,” he said, referring to “trauma-informed practices.”

District C

District C Republican candidate Jason Christopher said, “I don’t think any training or anti bias training can hurt because our teachers, Norwalk has … some of the best educators and I would definitely support this effort in terms of the homework policy.”

His Democratic opponent, Diana Carpio, said that the Norwalk High School parents club, of which she is president, has been talking about homework, racism and bullying.

Barbis, a Democrat who is unopposed for reelection in representing District E, said that he’d support anti-bias training.

“We need to understand how the school system works and where the state laws are,” he said. “So, you know, the board does not micromanage, you know, every issue, every little ruling. We set policy. We approve a budget, we have a superintendent, those are three mandates.”

CONECT member Sheri Brown later commented, “I just want to say that anybody who has anything to do with our children, black, white, yellow, Puerto Rican, or Haitian, they should want anti bias training. It doesn’t matter if it’s not your mandate. It needs to be fair.”

 

Racial disparity

Another series of questions centered on racial issues, with each BoE candidate affirming that they’d heard there are racial disparities in suspensions in Norwalk schools.

They were asked if they’d commit to anti-racism training as part of their Board of Education responsibilities and told not to answer yes or no, to expound on it when they got to the podium. Finally, they were asked, “Given the economic changes that Norwalk is undergoing, how will you prioritize racial equity and ensure that vulnerable student populations are not competing against each other for those same funds?”

District A:

Azima said he’d “for sure” take the training and commit to funding restorative practices.

“I would prioritize racial equity and ensure that the vulnerable student population don’t compete against each other. It’s a difficult situation, especially with funding,” Kemeny said, going on to say that the data she’d seen on suspensions made her “speechless.”

“Perhaps I’m naive, I don’t know if that data is correct,” she said, basing her skepticism on her years as a teacher at Rowayton Elementary. “… I will say that if that is the case, then there is a problem.”

District C:

Carpio said that a new superintendent has to understand that Norwalk is “a town that’s full of diversity, different children, different ages, different ways of learning.  We need to be able to give them equal opportunity.”

“If I listened to my dad, I would have never gone to college, I would have still been sitting at home only speaking Spanish at home in our house,” she said.

Christopher said, “There are a lot of priorities that have to be taken into consideration in next year’s budget. But yes, funding to address racial disparities, a huge proponent of my platform that I will implement, hopefully, if elected.”

And, “We will hopefully have some more dialogue on inclusion, and we can remove some racial tensions,” Christopher said.

District D:

DePalma spoke of requiring all teachers to “embark on professional development specific to trauma-informed social emotional learning.”

Meek said that in his profession, “I have to go through annual bias training every year… We should definitely fund that.”

District E:

“We have a very aggressive restorative justice program under way,” Barbis said. “We’ve literally just started this last summer. So it’s been in the works since last year. … we’re not seeing the results just yet. But this is the goal. So I think we’re really on track to doing the right thing there.”

He explained the challenges in hiring minority teaching staff and said, “There are a number of efforts underway to make our teaching administrative staff to look more like our students.”

 

District B Democratic candidate Sherelle Harris, who is running unopposed to return the Board of Education after a two-year layoff, was “regrettably was unable to attend tonight but she will be with us on at a later date,” Skinner said.

 

Mayoral comments

CONECT is part of a national organization for gun safety, Do Not Stand Idly By, and in the Gun Safety Consortium, and is working with Mayors across the country, Jack O’Melia said.  The Rev. Ray Dancy later asked Democratic incumbent Mayor Harry Rilling and his Republican-endorsed challenger, Lisa Brinton, if they’d commit to joining the Gun Safety Consortium. They both said yes.

Republican endorsed unaffiliated Mayoral candidate speaks with an audience member after the CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut) non-partisan Candidates Action Assembly, Tuesday at Grace Baptist Church.

They both committed to meeting with CONECT within 90 days of taking office, should they win the election.

Rilling said that as former Norwalk Police Chief, he’s been involved in many incidents involving weapons and, “We try to do everything we can to remove them from the street.”

“I support the Second Amendment, but I hate guns,” Brinton said.

Eric Fischmann queried the candidates about immigration issues, asking if they’d opt out of data sharing with ICE and third party contractors.

“I don’t condone the sharing of any information. It’s a violation of Connecticut law and the Trust Act of 2013,” Brinton said. “… I will work closely with the Norwalk public police department to make sure that we support the best practices, and we do whatever we need to do to keep our community safe in the best interests of everyone here.”

However, the Trust Act has had unintended consequences and “we’ve seen an uptick in our school enrollment,” she said. “… My point is simply that we need to talk about funding.”

“Norwalk has always been a welcoming community, and we need to make sure that we are will continue to be welcoming,” Brinton said. “That means having safe housing, making sure that we can educate all of our children, making sure we don’t have gentrification and force people out or overtax single family homeowners.”

Democratic incumbent Mayor Harry Rilling speaks with an audience member after the CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut) non-partisan Candidates Action Assembly, Tuesday at Grace Baptist Church.

Rilling explained that Norwalk was not told that data was being shared and when that was revealed, immediately opted out. He agreed with Brinton that immigrants need to know that they’re safe.

“We want to keep it that way,” Rilling said. “But we want to make sure that everybody in the city of Norwalk knows that we’re here to treat them equally to welcome them into our city, and to make sure that they’re safe and that the police department is here to protect them, not to hurt them.”

The candidates were also asked about the security of people attending religious observations.

“Internationally, nationally and even local places of worship have been used as soft targets for people to express their opinions. shooting at unarmed congregation congregates,” a CONECT representative said.

They were asked if they would work with CONECT to create a security plan for the religious community that would factor peak worship times into police patrol routes, and they said yes. They were then asked how they’d support the religious community, “given that they are increasingly targeted of violence and threats.”

“I’m so proud of our city. I’m so proud of our police department. For years. We have developed powerful relationships with all religious institutions and city of Norwalk,” Rilling said. “…We have to make sure that we plan, protect and do everything necessary to make our all of our community feel safe.”

Brinton said she believes in religious freedom.

“FBI crime statistics show that hate crime is up right now, with religious hate crime increasing almost 23% in the last couple of years,” she said. “… I’ll work with a religious community of all denominations, and the NPD,” she said, promising peak time protection similar to “what we do in our school system, and the community policing that goes on.”

 

CONECT: Will you take action to opt out of any data sharing by this contract ICE and review any other third party contracts involving police data to ensure these companies do not share this data with ICE?

 

 

CONECT: How will you support the religious institution that are vital part of the rich fabric of Norwalk community, given that they are increasingly targeted of violence and threats?

CONECT: Will you work with CONECT on all these issues?

District A BoE

CONECT: How you will address the problem of bias in our schools?

 

CONECT: If you secure a seat on the BoE, will you make it your funding and policy priority to address the racial disparity in discipline, support for proven best practices, restorative justice programs, diversity in staff and support staff development? Will you commit to take an anti-racism training as part of your BoE responsibilities?

District C BoE candidates

CONECT: How you will address the problem of bias in our schools?

CONECT: If you secure a seat on the BoE, will you make it your funding and policy priority to address the racial disparity in discipline, support for proven best practices, restorative justice programs, diversity in staff and support staff development? Will you commit to take an anti-racism training as part of your BoE responsibilities?

District D BoE candidates

CONECT: How you will address the problem of bias in our schools?

CONECT: If you secure a seat on the BoE, will you make it your funding and policy priority to address the racial disparity in discipline, support for proven best practices, restorative justice programs, diversity in staff and support staff development? Will you commit to take an anti-racism training as part of your BoE responsibilities?

District E BoE candidate 

CONECT: How you will address the problem of bias in our schools?

 

CONECT: If you secure a seat on the BoE, will you make it your funding and policy priority to address the racial disparity in discipline, support for proven best practices, restorative justice programs, diversity in staff and support staff development? Will you commit to take an anti-racism training as part of your BoE responsibilities?

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