NORWALK, Conn. – If three Norwalk Board of Education members feel “marginalized,” it’s probably because the majority of board members are moving forward with reform against the wishes of the marginalized few, BoE Chairman Mike Lyons speculated Wednesday.
NAACP Second Vice President Brenda Penn-Williams spoke to the board Tuesday, reading a letter she had written to Lyons. The Norwalk Branch NAACP Legal Redress Committee was in receipt of a complaint from by BoE member Shirley Mosby alleging disparate treatment against a majority of African-American and Hispanic female board members. Lyons said Mosby’s allegations that meetings have gone on without her knowledge nor that of board members Migdalia Rivas and Rosa Murray are “false,” as they were one year ago.
Wednesday, Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr asked Penn-Williams to provide evidence backing up Mosby’s claim of racial discrimination within seven days. NAACP President Darnell Crosland said, in a late-night interview with NancyOnNorwalk, that it is important that allegations be investigated but did not provide any information to explain the confidence he expressed at Tuesday’s BoE meeting that Mosby’s assertions had merit.
Lyons brought up the vote on the appointment of Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera just over a year ago when asked by email about the claim that there were secret meetings:
“Remember when Rosa Murray abstained on Rivera’s appointment?” Lyons asked in an email, going on to quote from an NoN article. “’Murray said she had no problem with Rivera, but she felt excluded from the process. She said there were “many times” when information was not shared with all board members.’ I responded to that claim as follows: ‘No information regarding the candidates was “shared among 5 Board members” and “kept from the others”; this is utter nonsense, oft-repeated but never, ever verified. How about producing one piece of evidence to back up these claims? Can Ms. Murray produce one piece of information about Mr. Rivera that was communicated to other Board members but not her? No, she can’t, because it didn’t happen. The ‘flawed’ process produced the best qualified superintendent in Norwalk’s history.’ I made that statement on July 11, 2013. Almost one year later to the day, I still await a single piece of evidence to support the ‘excluded’ allegation.
“This is déjà vu, and once again, there will be no evidence to back up this claim.
“But I do have a theory of why they keep returning to it. As they mount their rear-guard action to slow or stop Rivera’s reforms of the school system, they have become terribly frustrated that a bipartisan group of 5 or 6 members has solidly lined up behind the superintendent and votes down their efforts to protect the status quo (I note that the pro-Rivera group on some votes is 7 or even 8). To explain this to themselves, they choose to believe that some kind of ‘vast conspiracy’ is at work behind the scenes, making decisions with secret information and then ramming it through at board meetings. The simpler, more rational explanation – which they apparently cannot accept – is that the Board majority simply supports Rivera’s program, and votes in favor of it because of that. The whole Board voted for the Strategic Plan. The whole Board supported the budget that funds it. And now, as three members peel away and start voting against the concrete steps needed to implement it, they look on in astonishment as the rest of the Board keeps supporting what they already voted to support. Why do you need a conspiracy theory to explain people remaining consistent? What needs explaining is the three people opposing implementation of a plan they’ve already voted to support, not those who have remained consistent. But the conspiracy theory is emotionally satisfying to them – instead of having to address their own inconsistency, they change the topic to come up with a nefarious explanation for the other members’ consistency. Just a theory. But something like this must explain it, because no facts do.”
On Tuesday, 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.”
Asked to explain why he gave credence to Mosby’s claim, Crosland replied:
“My position as articulated at the Board of Education meeting last night is that a quality education for the children of Norwalk is of paramount importance to me and it is the most basic of civil rights as articulated on the website of OCR (United States Office of Civil Rights). I am not concerned with whether an individual on the board wins or loses a vote; I am only concerned with whether the process is working properly.
“In my humble opinion the process works when we conduct business with civility. We must also make sure that when it comes to deliberations, those meetings take place in the proverbial jury room with all jurors present. It is OK for people to disagree, but we don’t have to become disagreeable.
“None of us in society should be judge and jury. When allegations are made we owe it to our community to look into them. As I also said to the Board of Education, I would presume that all members of the board are fully engaged in the process and are being respected by fellow board members.
“When an experienced board member and past board chair and others allege they are being marginalized, I don’t think it is asking too much for us to look into the allegation. I respect the leaders of this great city, and I think we protect our city by doing our best to make sure that process is working.
“I can only hope that the dedicated department heads would at least give some attention to this matter and discern whether or not the process is actually impeding the full and effective involvement of certain officials elected to the Board of Education by the people of Norwalk. Looking into these allegations might be a headache to some but taking all allegations seriously is the best way to assure that our city remains strong and forward moving.”
Mosby did not respond to attempts to contact her Wednesday.
Mayor Harry Rilling said he does not think there is widespread racial tension in Norwalk.
“We have a community of 86,000 people and we are a very diverse community and we are a solid community. We work together, we have recreation together, our children are in the schools together so I wouldn’t suggest that there is widespread racial tensions within the city of Norwalk,” Rilling said.
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.”