NORWALK, Conn. – Tempers flared at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting over issues related to South Norwalk.
First, longtime-Democratic activist Bobby Burgess protested an announcement made by Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera at last week’s Mayor’s Night Out in South Norwalk. Rivera answered Burgess. Then longtime-South Norwalk activist John Mosby went through one of his usual rants, referring to comments made at the last board meeting and threatening a $10 million lawsuit, in addition to unhappiness with minutes he said were inaccurate. That drew a hot response from BOE member Jack Chiaramonte.
Rivera said last week that there have been “very serious discussions about opening another school in the South Norwalk area.” This was in response to several people who protested that their children could not attend school in their own neighborhood.
Not nice, Burgess said.
“No community people knew about this new school, what it will do and why we are doing it. What happened to community participation and community agreement?” he asked.
The Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship (IMF), the NAACP, Democrats and other community leaders didn’t know about it, he said, asking if it were somehow a secret.
“I want to know why is this plan going on?” he asked. “Why would the Board of Education, duly elected representatives here to represent the entire community, why would you plan a school in South Norwalk without anybody knowing about it? … We are not doing all the things we should be doing in the school system now? We should be closing the achievement gap. I think you owe the community an apology.”
Rivera responded, repeating some of the things he said last week at the Mayor’s Night Out, which Burgess attended.
“I know what I said,” Rivera said. “Let me just share with you that there have been some discussions about potentially possibly having a school in the South Norwalk area. That statement that I made arose from the question about access of children who live (South Norwalk) … Those families have to choose a school after everybody else is selected. They are placing kindergarten children in June, July sometimes as late as August and it just so happens that these families happen to be families who are African American and Latino. The last choice. Quite honestly, I think it’s been a discriminatory practice, so what we need to do is change that so there are more options.”
Opening a new school would be a year-long process, he said.
“Let me assure you there’s been no decision made about putting a school in South Norwalk, but rather I am, in all honesty and frankness and transparency, very seriously looking at the fact that I believe we would benefit from having a school in the South Norwalk area,” he said. “So I’ll be the first to tell you that I am fully aware that you have to have an inclusive process that’s got to be one that actually meets a need… “
Burgess wanted to argue with Rivera.
“This is not a debate,” said BOE Vice Chairman Artie Kassimis. Kassimis ran the meeting in the absence of Chairman Mike Lyons, who said in an email that he is sick.
Mosby said the minutes do not accurately reflect the comments that are made.
“There’s been a lot of things in the paper, talking about my son, talking about my daughter, talking about me. I want to let the public know they’re a bunch of lies,” he said. “… You all got to straighten up and fly right because if you all don’t stop putting these things in the paper you’re all going to be sued for libel. It’s a shame and a disgrace what you put in there.”
Mosby also criticized Rivera. “You been very unfair to me,” he said.
He repeated racial complaints he made two weeks ago, that there aren’t enough black and Hispanic teachers.
Chiaramonte began talking in a normal tone but became hot very fast.
“I come here, I have to hear racist rants, tell us all how ‘Briggs was all a black school and you’re layering with Hispanics and it should be black, it should be black’ — if I came here and I said to you — “ he said, before Kassimis tried to shut him down.
“I am tired of hearing his racist rants,” Chiaramonte said to Kassimis. “Take it somewhere else,” he said to Mosby.
Mosby walked away with a comment of “Don’t play a game with me,” as Rivera continued the meeting with positive comments.
The board later went into an executive session to consider a complaint filed by Mosby against Lyons, which was inspired by a story on this website, and other things. Mosby was not allowed in. His daughter recused herself. The executive session lasted perhaps 20 minutes.
Lyons last week offered an emailed response to Mosby’s comments about the lack of minority teachers.
“His numbers are a bit off, but it is correct that a large majority of the teachers in Norwalk are white (about 85 percent). We have 54 African-American teachers, 55 Hispanic, 14 Asian, and 741 white. That, of course, is a condition that long predates my arriving here. I know that Dr. Rivera sees one of the primary purposes of his complete overhaul of the HR Department as improving staff recruitment, including recruitment of qualified minority teachers. See the first two bullets on his HR Reorg plan (attached, highlighted), and see slides 10, 11 and 22 of his budget presentation (also attached).
“Now of course, I reject completely the view that teachers should be hired to fill racial quotas (doing so would be illegal under Federal constitutional law), and I also reject the idea that only minority teachers can teach minority kids (just as I would reject the idea that only white teachers can teach white kids). Recruitment of qualified minority teachers means just that – actively searching for them and getting them to apply, and hiring those who are qualified (and I am sure that there are many). Dr. Rivera – himself a minority – certainly sees that as a priority, and I share his view.
“But this will be a gradual process. We can’t fire large numbers of white teachers just because they are white; only over time can those numbers change. Those who demand instant change (like Mr. Mosby on minority hiring, or bloggers who want us to suddenly start cutting people’s salaries), seem oblivious of all of the mandates and union contracts we operate under. We will soldier on, although unloved!”