When will BoE discrimination charge be addressed?

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To the Editor

Will the Mayor’s new Committee on Race Relations spurred by concerns of a Ferguson incident in Norwalk quickly attend to the discrimination charge against the BOE filed by several BOE and NAACP officials six months ago?

That’s Norwalk’s most important high visibility “race relations issue” in many years.  Norwalk’s BOE has never before been charged with discrimination – a serious crime. Why aren’t NAACP President Crosland and Mayor Rilling pressing vigorously to have this serious discrimination charge against the BOE examined and if validated have prompt remediation put in place? Especially before the search for a new superintendent commences given how these charges were a factor cited by Superintendent Rivera in his unexpected resignation.

These charges raise disturbing questions. Are they just part and parcel of “Norwalk politics?” Left unresolved they embarrass the city and question public confidence in its governance.

Peter I Berman


23 responses to “When will BoE discrimination charge be addressed?”

  1. Preschoolers Act better

    It’s not racism…it’s elitism by the chair, that is exacerbated by his minions.

  2. Yankee Clipper

    Elitism??? Now that one you have to explain!

  3. Bill

    I want elites running the BOE, not a school bus driver with little to no education. Look at Venezuela.

  4. Preschoolers Act better

    Watch how the chair conducts himself, treats others (regardless of race) and make your determination. The way he reacts to comments he doesn’t agree with by his eye-rolling. Too bad he can’t go to New London with the used car salesman that everyone thinks is so wonderful. Can’t wait until the damage he’s done comes to light.

  5. Preschoolers Act better

    Not elites Bill. But I agree that there should be qualifications!!

  6. Kathleen Montgomery

    This letter is about the serious discrimination allegations toward the BOE. Not about eye-rolling. The fact that these claims remain unsubstantiated is important for all of us. Berman is not the only one who would like to see this egregious issue either proven or dismissed.

    Preschoolers Act Better, perhaps you would enlighten us on the damage done by Dr. Rivera in an opinion letter to NON.

  7. independent voice

    Whilst Mr. Berman should be commended for calling out the city’s Democratic leaders to address perhaps the most divisive, false and incendiary accusations in recent BOE history, he too must concede that the party he so favorably belongs to will never broach this topic in fear of dismantling its’ emerging race baiting base.

  8. John Frank sr

    Apparently the statement was made and never followed up by the lady who made it, although the mayor asked her to come in and talk to him. Of course, both the chairman and the deputy corp. counsel, Mr Spahr, very quickly responded with “show us the proof” statements which just might have intimidated her.

  9. Casey Smith

    Mr. Frank, I simply would like to point out that the racism charges were made in public. However, once they were made, there was no presentation of facts, no apologies. The statement was just left hanging. If the person was bold enough to make such a serious charge, then she should be bold enough to present the evidence to the Mayor, to the Commissioner of Education or to a judge. I would bet my last dollar that the BOE attorneys, the Mayor and the Commissioner of Education were crawling all over those video tapes of the meetings and the minutes.

  10. Amanda

    I agree with Casey Smith. I know Mayor Rilling reads this site. Mayor Rilling, let’s please put this to bed. The school system needs to move forward now and not be stuck in this terrible holding pattern. Let’s give Dr. Rivera some closure before he moves on. This stain on the BOE certainly will not be enticing for any future superintendent.

  11. Kathleen Montgomery

    I agree with Casey and Amanda. Mayor Rilling, whatever can be done, must be done. It’s the honest thing to do. No BOE can function well when harsh and vile accusations may drop out of the sky at any time and no consequences happen. Any candidate worth his/her salt would never agree to enter an environment where this occurs. And, candidates will certainly do their homework.

  12. piberman

    The real issue here is to seek prompt resolution of these charges made by BOE and NAACP officials. That requires a Mayor’s panel. Failure to do so seriously affects the Supt search. Ask Supt Rivera if they are relevant to the search. If they are valid corrective measures are needed. If not we move on. No useful purpose us served by letting them remain unresolved. So it’s up to the Mayor to secure resolution. It’s good politics all around.

  13. Casey Smith

    Mr. Berman, I’m sorry to disagree, but there have been numerous “panels” convened by other mayors in the past. And once again, I’d bet my last dollar that the final verdict will be something along the lines of, “Well, we didn’t find anything overtly racist, but we could do better….” Nope, nope, nope. Either there was racism or there wasn’t. No middle ground. No saving face so everyone “feels” good. When the term “racism” is used to cover every bump in the road, it becomes meaningless — and it’s particularly dangerous when it’s used to describe differences of opinion or views. It stops actual discussion and impedes working together because everyone’s afraid to say what they think. And, as someone who I admire greatly once said, “When everyone thinks alike, no one is thinking very much.” It’s not my opinion against your opinion, it should be what’s best for all the Norwalk school students, and I’m not seeing that. I’m seeing a power struggle. I believe Mayor Moccia once pointed out that the Norwalk School District is the largest employer in the City. I don’t know if it is still true, but seems likely to me. And it affects every single resident in this town since the BOE gets the lion’s share of the budget. Either come up with the cold, hard facts of the racist statement or action; or find a box, drop the term in, seal it up and get on with business.

  14. Steve Colarossi

    1. The only person who remains concerned about the allegations is Mr. Berman. His surprising penchant for ginning up fear and loathing among those who think that racism became extinct on November 4, 2008 suggests someone more inclined to foment political turmoil than thoughtful discussion.
    2. Mr. Berman appears to be suggesting that valuable resources need to be committed to disprove allegations that were made without any specificity. He does not suggest that the allegations should be believed until disproven. He does not suggest that remediations need to be undertaken as if the allegations were true. One can’t help but speculate that all Mr. Berman wants, regardless of its financial and social cost, is a public excoriation of those who dared to dispute the deity of his select political leaders.
    3. For those of us who have served with Mike Lyons, it is obvious that he is neither racist nor elitist. And, it is unfair for some to minimize his concern for all Norwalk’s children simply because he has a lengthy political career. He does have strong opinions and a desire to focus attention on the bigger-picture items, which in my experience translates to his efforts to handle the mundane matters more efficiently. The challenge has been convincing others that he is not short-changing process and inclusiveness for any ulterior motive.
    4. The members of the community who feel that there exists an uneven playing field do have cause to feel that way. First, BoE member Mike Barbis confirms Dr. Rivera’s resignation to The Hour and spins it to his advantage before Dr. Rivera had the courtesy of breaking the news himself. Putting aside how discourteous Mr. Barbis’ leak was to Dr. Rivera, it was a remarkably brazen stunt to try to signal to the community that he has information other BoE members do not have. Second, when it was his friend who broadcast the “pending” appointment of Mike “Circle the Wagons” Nast as interim superintendent, Mr. Barbis was clearly signaling again that he can follow his own rules about what should be confidential information. Hard to fault other BoE members who question not just how Mr. Barbis comes by all this confidential information but why he is allowed to disseminate it as he sees fit with no consequences. Third, abandoning the Board of Education tradition of rotating officers on an annual basis, although not violative of any democratic norm, can send a message (which I am not suggesting is accurate) that night makes right.
    5. Legitimate concerns do exist that not all BoE committees post their agendas and minutes on the NPS website. For example, from July 2013 to the present there are neither agendas nor minutes posted for any meetings of the Negotiations and Personnel Committee. Even if the Committee were to go into Executive Session, there would still be an agenda and minutes to reflect that entry- but yet, there is not. When the Chairperson of that committee is also Mike Barbis, it could send a message that there are two sets of rules for BoE members. And, for those individuals who have been the victims of racial discrimination in the past, feeling excluded from the process and being insulted by BoE members who appear to be “insiders”, could stir those old fears.
    6. The level of vitriol directed at Ms. Rivas, Ms. Mosby and Ms. Murray does suggest, at a minimum, a deep division– although the division may be between traditional liberal and conservative elements (and not race), the fact remains that there is a deep divide. Having been unfairly accused of racial insensitivity in 2009, I appreciate how pernicious those claims can be and how dispiriting it can be to feel compelled to answer questions about what you’re not. But, nothing justifies the tactics employed by the “other” side- leaking confidential employee information, demeaning long-term public school employees in public comments, insulting the occupations and backgrounds of BoE members (as is evident by an earlier comments posted on this blog), passing along blame for the failings of our leaders by looking for convenient scapegoats and, when all else fails, simply resorting to lying. Having had the honor of working closely with Ms. Rivas and Mrs. Murray, I do not doubt for a moment that they are motivated by their profound faith in the sanctity of all children and that they are both doing all they can to assure equal educational access for all in Norwalk,

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Steve Colarossi

      Mr. Barbis may well have confirmed Dr. Rivera’s resignation to The Hour, but we here at NancyOnNorwalk had already broken the story, and Mr. Barbis did not have anything to do with it.

  15. Phillis

    and there you have it folks, the truth and nothing but the truth. Thank you Steve for pulling it all into focus for us, outsiders. Its not about race, per say, its about ego’s and politics. Who’d a thought?

  16. When people knew what “civil discourse” meant, nobody would ridicule a hardworking single mom like Midaglia Rivas. When elected officials fought their own battles, they could call a truce and let things calm down. It used to be that people respected the offices they won and wouldn’t act like thugs when they made public comments.
    Now that’s all changed. I saw it at the last Board of Ed meeting. I see it here too.
    It can’t be good for Norwalk’s future.

  17. fedUP

    when REAL discrimination exists thats when….racism doesn’t exist simply because its alleged. So sick of people pulling the race card. The ignorants are doing more damage to their “cause” than they have the capacity to understand.

  18. Piberman

    Maybe the issue should be rephrased. Are we better off as a City having discrimination charges against the BOE made by 3 of its members one of whom is a senior NAACP official remain unresolved or having them discussed in a closed panel under the Mayor’s direction so their concerns can be addressed and better understood and if necessary corrective measures taken ? As public officials they are due that basic civic courtesy even if they have heretofore been reluctant to further describe their concerns in public.. Who are we to judge beforehand whether their concerns are worthy of discussion ? What is important is that these 3 elected officials become as best we can arrange fully participating members of the BOE. Like many citizens I remain concerned by these charges and wish them resolved for the betterment of the City. It is by virtue of their official capacity that these charges require examination. Not our “prejudgment” on whether they have substance. When elected officials make such charges we ought as a matter of good civic governance move to resolve them. No one benefits from the current situation which impairs our Supt. search. Their charges should be discussed in confidence lest we have a public circus. I have confidence that Mayor Rilling will appoint suitable panel members and that the panel will be fair minded and resolve these concerns of our elected officials. We do this because we respect our public officials and want the matter concluded by an impartial panel. Not because we know beforehand the “true facts”. Nothing in this suggestion should be construed as a charge against the BOE or its Chair admired by many as perhaps Norwalk’s most capable and devoted public servant in decades. The BOE can’t properly investigate itself so a Mayor’s panel is required. And it should be closed so participants can talk in full confidence.

  19. Steve Colarossi

    @Mark Chapman-
    I appreciate that the news had trickled out- probably from a multitude of sources. But, for one BoE member to confirm the rumors (at least to The Hour) and then spin it for personal political gain was an egregious affront to proper social discourse and elective officer decorum. Yet, this return to the old ways of destructive politics-as-usual has been lost in the rush to assign blame- and the much-needed honest assessment of how a City as politically, culturally, ethnically, racially and economically diverse as Norwalk achieves its goals of improving educational opportunities for all families suffers collateral damage.
    The fact that so much of the spin has revolved around efforts to re-write history and recast the failings of the Marks superintendency as the fault of anyone but the person in charge has highlighted for me that this crisis will not be squandered by those with old scores to settle.

  20. Notaffiliated

    I’m white.

    I can assure you, there are members of the BOE that are of all races that will never be on my Christmas card list. Am I a racist? Nah, I prefer to sit with nice people who aren’t rude and are ok with saying. “I was wrong”.

    What’s great about this situation is the broader community is tuning in to the dysfunction. I believe in years past this wasn’t the case.

  21. Joanna Cooper

    Thank you, Mr. Berman for your letter. There are many people in town that are outraged that the claims of discrimination by three BoE members have not been resolved. Shocked that town leaders have let this get out of control or remained silent. It has been reported here that the Dr. Rivera and Mayor Rilling are both waiting to convene a meeting with Ms. Mosby and her fellow members of the NAACP who put forth the unsupported claims.

    Ms. Mosby in the last six months has refused to meet with the superintendent and mayor to resolve claims. How does the BoE continue to operate under these circumstances? How is this healthy for our students, school culture, race relations and a properly functioning BoE? How is this going to attract quality candidates for superintendent? How does stonewalling in refusing to have a dialogue lead to resolution?

    If Ms. Mosby (and Ms. Rivas and Ms. Murray) really believe the Chairman of the Board of Education is a discriminating racist why not meet and resolve claims? Is it not logical that the right thing to do for the three who perceive themselves to be on the receiving end of discriminatory and exclusionary practices is to follow through on accusations and file a formal complaint and look for resolution?
    Even Mr. Crosland, president of the NAACP would like to see them resolved, “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.”


    That was six months ago. So why have they not been resolved?
    Is it because it is more politically effective to let them linger?

    To many observing the way this has played out it is not about race it’s about using the highly sensitive subject of race to divide and distract from the real issue of political power struggles. Many believe this was a highly calculated maneuver to drive out strong super and gain political control by inciting/dividing the public and embarrassing/bullying Mike Lyons. Those who have followed BoE activities in this town for over a decade have witnessed underhanded politics used to promote an agenda of keeping the status quo. We are used to ugly politics but these unsupported claims take it to a new level in Norwalk’s BoE history. It appears to be mudslinging of the most egregious kind.

    As unproven claims linger the three have looked for every opportunity to show them to be true via brow beating claims of exclusion and claims that the Chairman, Mike Lyons is trying to silence their voice. Ironically, they have dominated discussions in BoE meetings and Mr. Lyons has allowed them to speak endlessly when they have their turn. There are many times when they speak out of turn and he cuts them off when in fact he is doing his job by enforcing the Robert’s Rules of Order. Now Mr. Lyons is being called an elitist. When does the bad behavior end?

    Resolve and remediate the claims. Our students need to see adults working together and respectful of one another. Not this:


  22. Secondhand Rose

    All I can say is, Ms. Rivas is in NO WAY the class act or superb activist that her late sister Judy had always been. What a sad thing for Norwalk.

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