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.
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.”