Meriden school board denies allegations in lawsuit from former Maloney teacher

Meriden school board denies allegations in lawsuit from former Maloney teacher

Record-Journal
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Former Meriden school teacher Kevin Staton stands in front of Maloney High School in Meriden, Wednesday, January 18, 2017. Staton is suing the Board of Education, alleging he received disparate treatment due to his race and as the district’s only African American high school teacher, was pressured to be the school’s 'token' at an NAACP event. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal

MERIDEN — The Board of Education has denied allegations in a lawsuit by former Maloney High School teacher Kevin Staton, who claims he was pressured to serve at an NAACP event because he was black.

Staton, who was employed by the Meriden school district for nearly 20 years before resigning in the summer of 2016, claims to have been the only black teacher at both city high schools from 2008 until his resignation. He now works as a library media special for New Haven Public Schools.

Staton’s lawsuit alleges he was pressured by Maloney High School Principal Jennifer Straub and the head of the social studies department to represent the school at a meeting with the Meriden-Wallingford NAACP branch to discuss African-American history in the context of U.S. history, and Afro-Caribbean history in the context of world history. Staton expressed to Straub and his department head that he was not the appropriate representative because he did not have any experience teaching either subject, nor was he a senior member of the social studies department.

After Staton objected to being required to represent the school, voicing his opinion that he was being pressured “solely because of his race and not because of his qualifications,” he was asked to attend a meeting with Straub and a union representative, according to the lawsuit.

While no discipline was handed out at the meeting, Staton claims he was treated differently thereafter, receiving write-ups for “trivial matters,” and getting two negative performance reviews from Straub and the social studies department head in 2015. Staton resigned from the school system the following year.

The Board of Education answered Staton’s lawsuit in February, denying several of Staton’s allegations without going into specifics. The board is represented in the lawsuit by Ford & Harrison LLP attorney Melinda Powell, who did not return a request for comment.

“For twenty years, Melinda has represented governments, small employers, elected officials and public schools in a wide variety of employment and related civil rights matters,” according to her profile at FordHarrison.com.

State data shows the city lags behind state averages for African American teachers and school administrators.

Out of 689 teachers employed by the school district in the 2015-16 school year, a total of 8 were black — 1.2 percent of all teachers, according to data obtained from the state Department of Education. Statewide, 3.5 percent of teachers are black. As of October 2015, 8.9 percent of the student body in Meriden Public Schools were black.

Louis Bronk, the district’s director of talent development, said the school district recently hired a black elementary school teacher and goes to great lengths to recruit minority candidates, including attending minority teacher recruitment fairs and even recently taking a trip to historically black college Howard University to find potential teaching candidates.

Hiring qualified black candidates can be extremely difficult, School Superintendent Mark Benigni said.

“There is a short supply and a large demand because we all know the benefits from having a diverse teaching staff,” Benigni said. “We’re all trying to recruit the same members. Understand these (teaching) candidates have options to choose their school systems and multiple options.”

Bronk noted Staton’s claim that he was the only black high school teacher from 2008 to 2016 “could be true.”

Staton is being represented by New Haven-based attorney John Williams, who expects to bring the lawsuit to trial.

“It is an important case because of what it reveals about the unrepresentative nature of the public school system in Meriden,” Williams said.

Staton said his case is not about statistics as much as it addresses the culture of race relations in the school system.

“This isn’t just a district-wide issue, it’s a state-wide issue, especially when you have all these school districts that are talking about these initiatives to recruit teachers of color — well what environment are you bringing them into? What my case does is it addresses that diversity isn’t just hiring minorities,” Staton said. “That doesn’t mean anything if you are not dealing with diversity in terms of ideology. If you are not even dealing with tolerance, but respect.”

ltauss@record-journal.com 203-317-2231 Twitter: @LeighTaussRJ


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