NORWALK, Conn. — The NAACP plans to keep up the pressure on BoE member Mike Barbis but Tuesday’s protest will be more muted, with signs in the room but not the massive crowd Norwalk saw on Nov. 19.
In two weeks, the effort will again rachet up, Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams said. The Norwalk Federation of Teachers is pleased with the pressure the NAACP is exerting, NFT President Mary Yordon said.
“We’re going to keep it up” until Barbis resigns, Penn-Williams said, although Barbis is refusing and she acknowledged that he’s unlikely to go. Instead, newly elected Board Chairman Bruce Kimmel resigned.
The City Hall community room was packed on Nov. 19 for a raucous BoE meeting that saw Barbis supporters jeered and protestors chanting as new Board members were sworn in. School buses had delivered NAACP members from out of town and Waterbury youth were among those joining the locals in steady rebukes on Barbis.
The NAACP is busy Tuesday evening, protesting the death of a Stamford man in police custody, Penn-Williams said Monday. In addition, the Board’s meeting is set up to allow comments at the end instead of at the beginning.
So NAACP members plan to attend the meeting in the City Hall Council chambers and sit quietly with signs, she said. On the 17th, “I expect to have a whole bunch of people there.”
She has the support of Scot Esdaile, President of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Connecticut State Conference and a member of the National Board of Directors.
“If you do not resign from the ‘Board of Ed’ we will not leave one stone unturned, we will keep organizing against you,” Esdaile said to Barbis on Nov. 19. “… We will call on every U.S. Senator for the state of Connecticut, every U.S. Congressman, the heads of state Democratic Party. Yes, and also State Senator Bob Duff, the majority leader of the state of Connecticut, who also represents the Democratic Party. We will call all the Democrats on the national level. We will get rid of you whether you like it or not.”
Barbis is being assailed due to an email he wrote in June, which was anonymously released three days before the election. The email, inspired by pushback on the Board’s plan to demolish Columbus Magnet School, ended with the line, “Blacks f— Latinos.”
He has apologized, said it was a frustrated outburst and promised to work on anger issues. Barbis told the Hour this would involve exercising more, running full marathons instead of half marathons and maybe doing yoga.
Before Kimmel resigned, Penn-Williams said that she was planning to send him a formal letter to thank him for not putting Barbis on any Board Committees.
“That’s the best thing that could have ever happened,” she said on Nov. 23, vowing to continue the protests nevertheless.
“People from my community were very happy with the outcome,” the raucous BoE meeting, she said. “They are very happy that we as minorities are finally getting together on the injustice that is going on.” People called her and said Barbis, who took copious notes during the meeting and looked speakers in the eye more than he usually does, behaved disrespectfully, and “folks are now energized and they want to know what is the next step.” People who hadn’t been there planned to attend the next big meeting, she continued.
She alleged that Norwalk Public Schools teachers and administrators watched the meeting being livestreamed on YouTube and “a whole lot of those administrators and teachers were very happy.”
They are tired of being micro-managed and intimidated, she said, calling the Central Office administrators “bullies.”
Yordon in an email said:
“The Norwalk Federation of Teachers is engaged in difficult work with students and families every day, and we need an effective and focused Board of Education to do this work successfully. We were pleased with a strong turnout in this rally that showed, among other things, that we are not the only ones to have serious concerns about the impact of Mr. Barbis’ continued presence on the board. The purpose of a Board of Education is to plan education of our children. This work cannot be done if community members do not trust the motivations of Board members. As soon as Mr. Barbis steps down, we will all be able to move beyond protests and start to rebuild damaged trust and relationships.
“It is difficult to make a statement that characterizes the work experience of over 1000 people in so many buildings, but there is in many places sagging morale and fatigue from the overload of initiatives, increased class size, hasty or poor implementation of several important programs, and frequent turnover of Central Office staff.”
“Mike Barbis being a racist is wrong,” Penn-Williams said. “All of this was about Mike Barbis. The teachers see that.”
Norwalk Public Schools is touting increased test scores and a closing achievement gap. Mayor Harry Rilling expressed pride in the school system during his recent reelection campaign.
Many minority community members have left Norwalk, and, “When there are less people I guess you can say the scores have gone up,” Penn-Williams opined.
It’s not that she doesn’t like Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski but, “but I will be glad when he’s gone,” she said. “I just don’t like, under their leadership, what has happened to Norwalk Public Schools. Don’t believe the hype…. They are not doing more than anybody else. Trust me.”