NORWALK, Conn. – There was no response Tuesday from Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons to multiple requests made in a packed meeting room asking if he endorsed a recent comment made by board member Jack Chiaramonte that speakers called racially insensitive.
Chiaramonte, the former board chairman, also did not comment about his dubbing fellow BOE member Shirley Mosby “the girl who cried black.”
The Common Council chambers were packed for the meeting, but many people were there to protest the board’s intention to outsource janitorial services.
Those who addressed board about alleged racial insensitivity included Gwen Samuels of the Connecticut Parents Union, which widely publicized a protest before the meeting, and Norwalk Branch NAACP President Darnell Crosland, who did not speak of any evidence to back up Mosby’s claim of racial discrimination but said that Chiarmonte’s comments were “a disappointment” that showed the claim has merit.
There were also those speaking in support of the board. John Romano began his comments with a quip, “I’d like to know if body guards are available for after this meeting.” Bryan Meek said, “I see the glass as half full here,” drawing a comment as he walked away from a man in a AFSCME union T-shirt, “How much he got paid?”
Chiaramonte sat quietly through all of it, facing the speakers as they made their remarks.
Samuels last brought media attention to Norwalk in support of the arrested Tanya McDowell, who claimed to be a homeless mother and later went to jail on drug charges. FoxCT was the only major regional media outlet to respond to the press release, filming both the demonstration before the meeting and the comments made by speakers to the board.
Before the meeting, Samuels called for Chiaramonte and Lyons to resign.
“We are all watching what you do in Norwalk,” Samuels said to board members before addressing Chiaramonte’s comments. “The fact that you think by calling someone, a grown woman of color, a ‘girl,’ then saying she is crying ‘black’ like there is something wrong with being black,” she said, drawing hoots from the crowd.
It was irresponsible, she said, considering that the student body is 40 percent minority. “If a child comes to you saying ‘bullied,’ what are you going to say?” she said.
Norwalk citizens can vote board members out, she said. (Chiaramonte and Lyons are up for re-election next year.) Citizens can also vote out Gov. Dannel Malloy if he doesn’t speak out against the comment, she said.
“If they condone what you do they won’t get elected either. That’s the power of the people in this room,” she said. “… Do you know if you call a grown man ‘boy,’ that means you’re degrading him? Back in the civil rights era you called a person ‘boy’ that means they don’t have no value. So that means Ms. Mosby don’t have no value and yet the people voted for her and everyone else that is with her.”
The speaking session began with short comments from Daisy Franklin, who asked if Lyons would endorse Chiaramonte, and Jackie Steiner, who asked if Lyons would endorse Chiaramonte’s comment.
NAACP assistant treasurer Carolyn Fuller asked, “What does diversity mean? I would like the Board of Education to let us know they think is diversity because from what we see in the community it is not happening. We want it to happen and we are going to get our parents organized and hold everybody here accountable to all of our children.”
Crosland said he had come to the board last time to bring attention to the complaint of racial discrimination from Mosby, Rosa Murray and Migdalia Rivas.
“While those issues were pending it was a disappointment, I think to all of us, that we read in the paper that Mr. Chiaramonte sort of insensitively used the words, and I quote, ‘Ms. Mosby,, the girl who cried black,’” Crosland said. “While we were still trying to work this out with this administration we were met with these comments and I think that they speak for themselves. So I think everybody in this room, if you read these comments while this is pending, it’s quite clear now that there are some issues.”
He asked if Lyons would make a public statement about it, and if he supports the comments.
Romano said he is an avid reader and had gained a renewed sense of pride in Norwalk from positive articles about the school system under the stewardship of Superintendent Manny Rivera and Lyons.
“Then I read all these controversial articles,” he said. “… Being a reader, being a reasonable person when I read that remark, I could have found a little objection to it, but I completely understood the meaning behind it.”
He was interrupted by an audience member, then compared Chiaramonte’s remark to “a sky is falling-kind of remark.”
“In today’s society, especially when remarks were leveled and accusations were made that no proof is forthcoming, to me that’s very, very unfair to malign people and put all kinds of pressure on people that are really working very hard for the betterment of our kids in our schools,” Romano said.
Tasheedah Roberts finally got a reaction from a board member. She complained that the board members were not interested in the comments, and were looking at their computers while people were talking.
“If you’re disinterested then don’t be here,” she said, as shown in the video shown below. “…Graduate law school, do something other than tearing up our town. If you’re not interested, get off the board.”
Mike Barbis said, “What makes you think…” before being drowned out by applause from the crowd. He said nothing further.
Lyons declined, after the meeting, to comment on the controversy.
Chiaramonte stepped up to the plate.
“I found it pretty ridiculous that she goes out to the public with racist accusations and puts it out in the public, and then Mr. Crosland is like, ‘maybe we should discuss this and start looking at the stuff,’” Chiaramonte said. “If you are looking at the accusations, don’t you think you’d kind of figure out if there’s any meat to the story and then come public with it? No, she blurted it out to the public without checking anything, there was no proof to it.”
Mosby did not mention the controversy during the meeting. Speaking to FoxCT before the meeting, Mosby aid there was evidence to support her claim of racial discrimination.
“I do have the proof and when the time comes to show them that proof, that has been shown and people have seen it, if we ever have to go to a court of law, believe me, it’s there,” Mosby said.
She declined to speak to Nancy On Norwalk, claiming that previous reports have been unfair. She did not specify what had been unfair.
After the BoE meeting, however, she did reply to Chiaramonte’s claim that, shortly after joining the board last November, she had threatened to use the race card if she needed to.
“I don’t talk like that,” Mosby said. “You know I don’t. I would never say that, that’s all. I am not going to sit here and make it about me going against Jack because I am disappointed, he was a good friend. I would never, never in my life. People are out there, that is why they are coming out in support. I never would say that. My family is extremely diverse. It hurts me to the core, that’s why I don’t want to talk about it.”