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Mosby complaint of racial discrimination brings NAACP to Norwalk Board of Ed

Board of Education member Shirley Mosby
Board of Education member Shirley Mosby

NORWALK, Conn. – Members of the Norwalk Branch NAACP arrived in force at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting in a show of support and concern stemming from a complaint of racial discrimination filed by BoE member Shirley Mosby.

“She alleges that the African-American and Hispanic female board members are subject to continual intimidation, harassment, disrespect, exclusion, discrimination, lack of transparency and not being informed, and subject to disparate treatment,” Brenda Penn-Williams said to the board, reading a letter sent June 22 to BoE Chairman Mike Lyons.

Members of the Norwalk Branch NAACP
Members of the Norwalk Branch NAACP attend Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

Norwalk NAACP President Darnell Crosland said members had cut their Tuesday night monthly meeting short to come to the BoE meeting. About 13 members sat in a block in the audience, most wearing NAACP shirts. Five members spoke to the board.

Penn-Williams said she was there on behalf of the Legal Redress Committee. The letter she read requested a meeting with Lyons within seven days. She said that there was only one day left and that she hadn’t heard anything.

At the last board meeting, Mosby, Migdalia Rivas and Rosa Murray complained about a lack of transparency as the board moved to vote on a reorganization plan presented by Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera. Mosby complained that Rivera’s plan was listed in the agenda under information and reports, not under actions, meaning there was no announcement to the public that there would be a vote.

Lyons answered those complaints. “I can think of a dozen examples where we have had discussion under possible actions without objections of board members,” he said.

The trio of minority members eventually voted against the plan after making futile efforts to table it. Sherelle Harris was not present.

Yolanda Skinner, chairwoman of the NAACP’s Health Committee, said Tuesday night she had been at the last board meeting.

“I witnessed how important issues were cunningly last-minute items on the agenda, for example, the reorganization and promotion of those at the main office,” Skinner said. “The report was presented by Dr. Rivera for hiring and promotions for which members of the board approved without seeing salaries or who would be hired or promoted. I witnessed discourteous body language. I am in sales, and body language is important, I can tell you who is going to buy in about three seconds. The body language, the pitch and the tones that were used toward Miss Mosby, Miss (Migdalia) Rivas and Miss (Rosa) Murray was really disheartening.  It made me want to jump down from up there.”

Skinner suggested that Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera arrange for a visit from Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, as she said he had discussed with her previously. Rivera responded that while Canada is very busy he has also been a friend of Rivera’s for 40 years. Rivera said he went to New York last week to talk to Canada; the social activist is lined up to speak to teachers in the annual convocation before the beginning of the next school year, Rivera said.

Crosland also addressed the board, stressing that basic civil rights include the right to an education.

“In order for us to give quality education for all our kids we need to know that the board has an equal opportunity to be heard and their voices to be considered,” Crosland said. “Miss Mosby has made it quite clear that some of the members of the board are being excluded from decision-making processes. To be more specific, if in fact there is going to be a vote about something, I think it is very important for the information that pertains to that vote to be disseminated timely and to all the board members. What has been brought to my attention is that the information is not being disseminated. What has been brought to my attention is that there are meetings outside of the general body. What that does is it causes those members to either abstain or be uninformed in their vote.”

Angela Harrison said the board is not the be-all and the end-all, that there are higher authorities that organized members of the community can appeal to.

“If Norwalk has to lose even having a board, if that’s the way we are going to be able to bring the attention to help our kids with codes and policies that they have that is making them quit school, don’t even feel a part of it, don’t even want to be a part of it, that we have the power to change that,” Harrison said.

“There are some things that we really need to address so this board can function properly according to city charters as a 9-member board,” said Andre Williams, also of the Legal Redress Committee. “All the members are not being informed properly, are not given the right time to respond, or given proper time to address some things that eventually affect our kids.”

Lyons said after the meeting that Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr had responded to the NAACP letter on his behalf.

“We have indicated that we think all of the allegations are false and we are not going to respond to vague, ambiguous complaints with no facts behind them,” Lyons said. “There is a long history of people here making complaints against this board, that every state agency that reviews them rejects as utterly unfounded.

“This time what we are saying is, ‘You produce the facts that support the allegations and then we’ll respond. If you claim that I have acted in the way that you claimed, you point to video tapes, audio tapes, records, documents, emails — anything that will actually corroborate your charges.’ So far, whether if it’s at the CHRO (Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities) or the FOIC (Freedom of Information Commission) or the state labor board or whatever, it all turns out to be allegations with no substance, and I am tired of wasting my time responding to allegations with no substance. Seems to me if you are going to make charges like that, back them up. You produce some evidence I’ll respond to them. If all you are producing is the usual wild accusations, I am not going to waste my time responding to them.”

Comments

27 responses to “Mosby complaint of racial discrimination brings NAACP to Norwalk Board of Ed”

  1. Yankee Clipper

    Hear hear Mike Lyons! Let’s see some facts. Mosby and Rivas monopolize board meetings, how can they say they have no voice?

  2. Lifelong Teacher

    If enough mud gets thrown, some of it is bound to stick. It seems like this group is trying to slow progress.

  3. Bill

    If you aren’t able to convince the rest of the board to vote with you, especially when it comes to corrupt contracts that support your family’s janitor union, play the race card…smart

  4. John Hamlin

    The BOE is a political body and every board member has a right to be heard — through the exercise of his or her vote. And no one is preventing anyone from voting or refusing to count all votes. It seems as though the real gripe here is that the complaining parties are upset because they can’t persuade others to vote their way — so the fault is theirs for being unable to persuade and their gripe is with themselves. As for “respect,” these people are in politics. If they want respect they have to earn it. If they can’t stand the rough and tumble, stay out of gymnastics.

  5. piberman

    Another demonstration of NAACP’s grievously failed leadership. Having failed to make any positive contribution to the extraordinaarily mismanaged and corrupt NEON the organization now targets the most productive and capable BOE we’ve had in decades with both implausible and ambiguous charges devoid of substance. And in support of BOE members who have failed to make positive contributions. Indeed, two of the “aggrieved” parties objected to the hiring of our distinguished Superintendent. Without explanation.

    Now is the time for the entire community to support the BOE and its leadership. Now is the time for leaders of the Norwalk Democratic Party beginning with Mayor Rilling to vigorous object to these unfounded charges by the Democratic BOE members who have been distinguished by their absence of meaningful contributions. Not the time for sitting on the sidelines while BOE members embarrass themselves with groudnless charges.

    Now is time for Norwalk’s African community to object to the obvious political grandstanding of the NAACP in support of 3 non-contributing BOE members. Unless they enjoy failed leadership and believe that such failed leadership makes a positive contribution to our community,

    On the whole these charges made in the public venue without any foundation or support are disgraceful and injurious to our community. To play a positive role in City governance the African community needs better leaders, especially on the BOE.

  6. Don’t Panic

    Before we assume this is sour grapes, it might behoove the Board to look into allegations of decision-making that is taking place outside of regular meetings. If a quorum of the BOE is getting information that the rest of the members are being denied and making decisions about it (either by email or by meetings that are not properly noticed as public with minutes and agendas and so on), then there are FOI violations.
    .
    And the technical point of not properly noticing an action being taken (i.e. an item that is scheduled to be voted upon) by burying it inside an informational report agenda item is well-taken. It is a violation of FOI. The fact that there are a “dozen examples” of having done it before is not only NOT a defense, it is an indicator that the Board has, at best, developed some very bad habits with regard to public transparency. An equally bad habit, if true as presented, is if it is becoming common practice to suspend the rules to add agenda items.
    .
    That said, the generally vague nature of the complaints makes it hard to assess what is going on. Now that there is some attention being paid, one would hope that there would be an attempt to gather some specific examples and that all parties would sit down to discuss why the process is not allowing some duly elected officials to participate fully in the decision-making.
    .

  7. Mike Lyons

    Don’t Panic, a couple of points. First, no quorum of the BoE is meeting or making decisions outside of Board meetings. There is absolutely no evidence in support of those allegations, other than rumors started by the very people doing the complaining. The fact that three members of the Board tend to be on the losing side of votes is because the Board majority supports Dr. Rivera’s reform initiatives, while they fight to maintain the status quo. It doesn’t take ‘secret meetings’ for majority members to support Dr. Rivera.

    “And the technical point of not properly noticing an action being taken (i.e. an item that is scheduled to be voted upon) by burying it inside an informational report agenda item is well-taken.” This is not “well taken” – it is a barefaced lie. The items complained about were all specifically listed in the agenda of the meeting and delivered to all Board members four days before the meeting. In ‘all of the other examples’ I named, the items were also on the agenda. This is provable with physical evidence.

    “It is becoming common practice to suspend the rules to add agenda items.” This is legal under both the FOI Act and the Board policies, and in every case that this has happened it was done under an agenda that noted that the topics were going to be discussed first in executive session. Again provable with physical evidence.

    I can’t spend all day responding to rumors and false accusations, never backed with evidence, propounded by certain board members and NON commentators. But some of the more egregious ones do deserve responses.

  8. EveT

    @John Hamlin, “the complaining parties are upset because they can’t persuade others to vote their way” — have they even tried? It seems that all they do is complain. What exactly would the BOE be doing if Mosby, Rivas, and Murray had their way? I don’t think we know, because they have not offered constructive solutions. They just complain that they are not being “respected.”

  9. anon

    Mosby was one of the Board of Education members endorsed by the Union. All 3 of these complainers are reliable union supporters. Unions don’t like change.

  10. Don’t Panic

    @Mike Lyons,
    In each case, I did say “if” it was happening. Thanks for explaining.
    .
    The article above says: At the last board meeting, Mosby, Migdalia Rivas and Rosa Murray complained about a lack of transparency as the board moved to vote on a reorganization plan presented by Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera. Mosby complained that Rivera’s plan was listed in the agenda under information and reports, not under actions, meaning there was no announcement to the public that there would be a vote.
    .
    The July 1st Agenda says:
    IV. Superintendent’s Report
    V. Actions
    1. Approval of Personnel
    2. Approval of Budget Transfers
    3. Authorize the Superintendent to (i) hire certified staff (non-administrative) during the summer months and (ii) enter into renewal or new contractual agreements for exempt staff, within Board of Education-approved budget parameters and hiring policies:
    Director of Labor Relations (PT Time)
    Chief Business and Finance Officer
    Chief Communications Officer
    Chief Academic Officer Director of School Operations
    Director of Research and Accountability
    VI. Information and Reports
    A. Committee/Representative reports
    B. Board Members Announcements
    .
    Staff decisions are listed as action items on this agenda.

  11. True. And the reorganization plan was listed two weeks ago as “C. Discussion of and Possible Action to approve Central Office Reorganization Plan”. What part of “Possible Action to Approve” do people not understand?

    BTW, Ms. Mosby, Ms. Rivas and Ms. Murray voted two weeks ago to approve a new contract with our food service provider, without any objection, under this agenda listing: “B. Discussion of and Possible Action to approve the Whitson’s Culinary Group 5-year contract”. Same language. No objection. Just as they have voted in favor of many other agenda items listed in exactly the same way.

    I find the inconsistency in their position revealing.

  12. piberman

    Interesting that no other members of the minority community nor the Democratic leadership including Mayor Rilling nor elected officials have supported the complaints of the 3 complaining “non-contributor” members of the BOE other than the NAACP. A fair question is whether these 3 aggrieved BOE members represent just themselves. So far no evidence their “complaints” enjoy community support. Time past for Norwalk’s Democratic leadership to speak out on the validity of the complaints by these 3 disaffected BOE members. And their behaviors on the BOE. Public education is serious business. One would think that if BOE members are unable to contribute meaningfully that at least they would respect majority BOE decisions. Maybe that’s too much to ask.

    Mayor Rilling, as ex-officio BOE member and Democratic Party leader what’s your view ?

  13. One and Done.

    You’ll get a bigger reaction from an empty chair than this mayor.

  14. Auntie Mae

    Not inclined to call this partisan politics, although it can be viewed through a seasonal political prism as such. But there does seem to be a general lack of trust and respect for each other and the duties and responsibilities the elected chairs require that is distasteful and somewhat immature.

    .

    Inconsistent? Hmm. As I recall, the two members that abstained on the vote to hire Dr. Rivera, did so not because Dr. Rivera or his qualifications and abilities, which they made clear but because of the blatant lack of transparency and inclusion, of the search and interviewing process, with board members as well as parents, which they also made clear.

    .

    This lack of transparency and inclusion, as I recall was acknowledged by the chairman and was dismissed as invalid concern because that was a request by Dr. Rivera, not any board member. Not sure how that dismisses the concern’s raised, especially after the extensive reports and meetings and well documented of defined areas in need of improvement, namely, transparency and inclusion issues, year after year. What was, dare we reuse the played out term, yet again, the status quo, does indeed appear to remain an issue when it comes to transparency, albeit somewhat improved and inclusion which does not seem to have reached the high bar which our district has previously set, numerous times.

    .

    No one can tell anyone, what someone, anyone, feels or is concerned about is folly or does not exist and doesn’t matter and is a waste of time. No one with a moral compass, sound managerial judgment and a smidgen of political astuteness anyway.

    .

    Mr. Lyons may have some administrative skills, interpersonal relationships and diplomacy, are obviously, not in his repertorie of specialities, as we have witnessed time and time again in meetings and in his public responses where at times his behaviours and responses do come off as dismissive and narcissistic. The “I know all and you no nutun,” complex.

    If a group of folks come in with concerns and the chairman states, “I aint got no time for this, if you have evidence than charge me, if not, than, well, the heck with you all.” Brings an old clip to memory, kinda like Jame Cagney belching, “You ain’t got nothing on me copper. Go on, go on copper, try and prove ya got something on me.”

    .

    It may be time for the chairman to reflect a bit on his own responses and behaviours that generate these type of exclusionary feelings that leads to animosity and not just within the board but this type of vitriol tends to spread through entire communities.

    .

    It’s not good for the board, as a whole, regardless pf party, the district and most importantly, the chairman’s stated focus, the students. Leadership is not defined by bullying, which, it is apparent there is allot of bullying going on.

    .

    It is accepted, that elected members are there for one thing and one thing only, giving our kids a chance. Mr. Lyons has obviously never had experience in motivating a crew and implementing team strategies effectively. But we are all life learners and we all err and feel pressures and say things in ways we can present better if given another opportunity. Right?

    .

    So lets all try and respect each other and behave in the way we want our children to. Set examples by our own actions.

    .

    This isn’t a sandbox and if anyone missed the memo, that went out to all students, of all ages, “we have a zero tolerance for bullying.” So lets all start behaving like the adults and learn how to get along respectfully with each other and keep moving that ball down field, (as a team), regardless of political beliefs or affiliations.

    .

    I see no reason why, the chairman of the board, representing all parents and students, would refuse to meet with the NAACP to address concerns. If you ain’t got the time to listen, your priorities are not aligned with the boards tasks or our community’s mission.

    .

    A friend, on the down low, clues you in, “dude, your breath stinks, brush your teeth dude, before we meet the chicks.” You gonna defriend him for life because he is trying to save you from embarrassment? Click, click.

    .

    I call do over, for all…
    Restart. Ya all take a canoe trip together one afternoon this summer and work it out, save us the embarrassment and legal fees.
    Thanks and we all do appreciate the efforts and uncompensated time that you all devote working had to make our district a Pearl.
    Now ya all go have a beer together and work it out and we want to see everyone getting along and working together, everyone, regardless of party. Click Click. “Top of the world ma, top of the world.”

  15. RU4REAL

    “Time past for Norwalk’s Democratic leadership to speak out on the validity of the complaints by these 3 disaffected BOE members” Well said Mr. Berman thank you, this needs to be accomplished in ALL city departments now.

  16. Casey Smith

    Oddly enough, it seems like the accusations of “racism” and “lack of transparency” have been made before. Wasn’t there a little scene when the Commissioner of Education came down to Norwalk right around the time that Dr. Corda left? If memory serves, Ms. Rivas accused the Commissioner of being “prejudice” against the Board before the first half of the meeting was over. And of course, there were numerous times when it was implied during the Board term when Ms. Rivas was the only person “of color” on the Board.
    .
    Interestingly enough, years ago, there was another little incident when Ms. Rivas claimed she had not been provided with some information that other Board members had received. Turns out that the information had been emailed to her just like it had been to every other Board member, but she had not checked her email.
    .
    ““There are some things that we really need to address so this board can function properly according to city charters as a 9-member board,” said Andre Williams, also of the Legal Redress Committee.”
    .
    Interesting that Andre William is involved in this mess, too, since he has repeatedly tried to sue the Norwalk Fire Department on the grounds of racism. It’s also worth remarking that he was the one who apparently sent out a letter on NAACP letterhead to the various local media groups without the approval of the NAACP board.
    .
    Of course, Mr. Mosby has also lodged numerous suits against the City, against the BOE and apparently against anyone that he wants to harass. And now his daughter is following in his footsteps.
    .
    So this is just the same old, same old. Nothing new to see here, folks.
    .
    The sad part about this is that the District is constantly struggling to provide the best they can for the Norwalk School students – all the Norwalk school students regardless of race or ethnicity – but each one of these frivolous lawsuits diverts money away from the various needs, like Special Education or just the general classrooms. And of course, the people who pay for this are the students who don’t get the services or materials they might have been given otherwise and the taxpayers who see the budget increase year after year while many people struggle with either lost jobs or stagnant salaries.

  17. LWitherspoon

    @Casey Smith
    .
    Well said.

  18. Lisa Len

    Heres some unsolicited advice for the Mosby’s. head over to Pf Camp, DARE Camp, Carver Center. Anywhere in Norwalk where our kids are learning and living with each other. Let them set an example for you and your behavior. If you want to be a leader in this city YOU should be setting the example – not the other way around.

  19. Joanne Romano

    I just can’t grasp what is happening here. All members were elected by the taxpayers of Norwalk to whom they are answerable. I normally stay out of BOE business because I believe these are well educated individuals who really care about the education of our children. My concern here is that these very members are setting a very bad example for the children of this city!!! To see the very people who are entrusted with their education and basically their futures act in this manner is reprehensible at least. Have we not taught our children to respect everyone? Have we not taught our children to be the best they can be? How then when they see all this upheaval amongst the board members are they to learn right from wrong? Just because you don’t agree with someone doesn’t make that person a racist. There will always be conflicts as far as a group of people charged with decisions and not all will agree on everything but that has nothing to do with racism.

    I know Mike personally for many years and while we have not always agreed on some things does that mean he’s a prejudice against me because let’s say I’m Italian or I’m a women??? Or is it because we honestly have a difference of opinion?

    People need to be very careful how they perceive others and even more careful of the words they use against another. If the board members disagree on items, table them, put them aside til cool heads prevail and discussions can be had. Then perhaps there will be less emotions involved and more hard facts revealed.

    Do it for the kids and do it for the taxpayers who put their trust in you and the education of their children in your hands.

    Politics for whatever reason should have no place in decision making when it comes to the welfare of our children.

    Teach them well…one day they will be leading the way!!! as the song says…The children are our future…put the politics aside and give them the tools they need to build their futures.. It’s not about the adults agendas here folks. It’s about the very lives you will help mold.

    I’m sure no one wants to hear from me but as an outsider I find it very disheartening to pick up the paper and read so many times the difficulties of this board.

  20. M. Murray’s

    It’s time to put up or shut up. If you have evidence, put it out there and prove your case. If you don’t, stop slandering people with baseless accusations. And any politician worth his salt would not comment on these allegations until the facts come out. I am sure the mayor is waiting to see if there is any basis for these allegations. If there is he will examine all these facts before commenting on them. It makes much more sense than rendering an opinion before you see all the facts. As far as board decisions go, there are 9 members. Any five can determine which way a decision goes. That is the whole point of the democratic process.

  21. One and Done.

    @M. Murray. The mayor sits on the board. Is he sleeping during the meetings? He’s pandering to his constituency plain and simple. Stop trying to sugar coat his lack of leadership here.

  22. Joanne Romano

    @ one and done. The Mayor sits as ex officio on the BOE. ecode360.com/27035439 and his function is to have no vote at any meeting except in the case of a tie.

  23. anon

    Rilling may not have a vote but he still has a voice and he has been silent.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ANON

      No full-throated defense of the BOE leadership or condemnation of the accusers, but no silence, either. Just a statement that echoes the others in sentiment.

      From one of the followup stories:

      Rilling was copied on the letter Penn-Williams sent to Lyons.

      “It gave no specific information regarding claims of intimidation and harassment, just indicated that there were allegations made,” Rilling said. “Without hearing what those allegations are, I’m unable to even really make a comment on it. I can say that I have attended several Board of Education meetings. People have expressed their opinions. People didn’t always agree, but the meetings that I attended were for the most part very civil. So I would encourage anyone who feels that there is a problem to bring that information forward, but you have to bring details of that information rather than just a broad statement or allegation of harassment and intimidation without specifics.”

  24. anon

    @Chapman, my comment referred to his many absences at Board of Ed meetings, no vote but a voice. 70% of our tax dollars, schools finally have leadership and people Rilling campaigned with causing problems,he should be there.

  25. RU4REAL

    @Casey Smith, On the contrary, there is plenty new to see here but its difficult to see with our eyes shut tight and our heads in the sand!
    Mr. Williams did not try to sue the department on the grounds of racism, he tried to tell all of us the truth about the alleged discriminatory actions of the department administration against minority employees. No one is paying attention to the truth in this matter, start asking Mr. Williams some questions, such as who, what, when, where, how and why these allegations were brought in the first place, he wont bite you. Do us a favor in your next post and demand an investigation into the allegations he made in the letter, instead of shooting the messenger. I do believe that the folks ignoring the allegations are a HUGE part of the problem, which in turn at some point in the near future will put Norwalk on the map nationally, which will not be good for any of us. This will not go away on its own because there is proof and no one is seeking the truth, just trying to shoot the messenger is ignorant in any situation without checking the facts. Mr. Williams is not going to simply go away, prove him wrong by checking the facts that is the only way you can stop it. On the other hand, if he is right he has done a great service to Norwalk, by standing up alone and taking crap from people who want to hide the truth.

  26. piberman

    How can the 3 aggrieved BOE members be effective contributory memners of the BOE after making public accusations of discrimination without filing any evidence, failing to secure any community support save the NAACP and being sharply criticized by many ? There’s no modern example of such peculiar if not outrageous behavior in Norwalk. Best if these non-contributory members unable to co-operate effectively within the most capable BOE in decades resign for “the good of the children”. Whom do they speak for other than only themselves ? And what does the City’s Democratic leadership have to say about such bizzare behavior ? Too embarrassed ?

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