Southington Coalition on Social Justice begins; meetings not public

Southington Coalition on Social Justice begins; meetings not public

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SOUTHINGTON – School Superintendent Tim Connellan on Tuesday announced the formation of a group to determine ways to increase racial equity in the school district.

The group includes parents, teachers, students and town and school officials. The initiative is part of a multi-year commitment to tackling diversity issues, he said. 

The group was scheduled to meet behind closed doors for the first time Tuesday night. Connellan said at least the group’s initial meetings will be held in private. A membership list was not released.

Town residents and area groups urged the school board to address a lack of minority teachers and administrators, as well as higher discipline rates for minority students, after a video surfaced online late last year in which a Southington High School student threatened black classmates.

The coalition consists of 30 people chosen by Connellan.

“We were very intentional and tried very specifically to create a group of individuals that was as diverse as possible across gender, across race, across ethnicity, which is not easy to do in a community that is pretty homogenous,” he said. “I think we did a pretty good job at that.”

Connellan said Tuesday that he’d ask group members if they’d be willing to have the membership roster public. The group includes a representative from the Board of Education and Town Council, top school district officials and the founder of Southington Women for Progress.

Connellan said the public and the press weren’t allowed at the meeting, although forums and other open gatherings might be considered later.

“The opportunity for folks to speak on certain topics that might be difficult for them to speak about are going to present themselves,” he said. “We really feel that needs to be part of the group dynamic and not that’s something available to just anyone.”

The group will also form subcommittees that will consider school policies and practices in areas such as hiring, curriculum, professional development and student voice.

Connellan said the district already has many opportunities for students to learn and display positive social attributes but that the public doesn’t know about them.

“We have not done a good job in getting information out about the things we’re doing already,” he said. “When it comes to cultural responsiveness, we need to be a little more targeted.”

Tom Hennick, public education officer for the Freedom of Information Commission, said Tuesday that groups formed by a school superintendent are considered public under state law. Public groups are subject to FOI laws, including advance public notice of meetings, meeting agendas and meeting minutes.

In 2011, the FOI Commission ruled that a strategic planning group formed by the East Hampton superintendent constituted a public meeting. That group included district employees, town residents and town officials.

School board Chairman Brian Goralski said he understood Connellan’s motives in keeping the first coalition meetings private. 

“It’s not a public committee. It’s got students on it,” Goralski said. “We have an obligation like we do in all situations to protect the safety and privacy of students.”
Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

Shutting out the public while addressing racism

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