SOUTHINGTON — Police presence at recent Board of Education meeting divided school leaders.
Groups of parents have attended the past several school board meetings to talk about mask mandates, how race is taught and other controversial subjects. Board of Education Chairwoman Terri Carmody, a Democrat running for reelection, said concerns over crowds prompted a request for two police officers at the John Weichsel Municipal Center for Thursday’s meeting as a precaution.
“That was because there was going to be quite a rally outside,” she said. “Not knowing how some of these rallies can go, we felt it was a precautionary measure we wanted to take.”
Carmody said the police waited in the hall outside the meeting and weren’t needed. The room was full of parents, she said, but aside from a few comments said by audience members during the meeting there were no problems.
Parents opposed to the mask mandate for students have been a frequent presence at the board meetings as well as other town gatherings, holding signs and speaking during public comment.
Angelica Espada, a Libertarian candidate for Board of Education, has repeatedly spoken against the mask mandate. On Thursday, she said the board’s decision not to call a special meeting on the mask issue was “appalling.”
“All free citizens have a right to choose to wear a mask or not,” she told board members Thursday night.Police not needed
Joe Baczewski, board vice chairman and a Republican running for reelection, said parents have been “respectful and reasonable” in their concerns.
“I don’t see a group of people where we need two armed police officers at a meeting. That bothered me,” Baczewski said.
“I don’t feel that I’m being attacked when I’m up here. You guys are doing your due diligence as residents of our town,” he told the audience Thursday.
Missy Cipriano, a Republican board member not running for reelection, also mentioned to the officers that there weren’t trouble makers at the board meeting.
Parents too didn’t like the unusual police presence, according to Carmody.
“The parents were upset about that, many of them mentioned, ‘You have have to have police here?’” she said. “It’s just precautionary. We live in troubled times right now.”
Carmody said meetings in other towns have been disrupted by mask mandate protesters. In Cheshire, a meeting with Gov. Ned Lamont ended early due to disruption from those opposed to student mask mandates.
Carmody said she’s repeatedly told parents the board is bound by Lamont’s executive orders and doesn’t have the authority to change the mask mandate.
“We cannot ignore the mandate, it is the law,” she said.Critical race theory
Some speakers have also voiced concerns about divisive race politics being taught in the schools. Carmody said critical race theory, mentioned over the past few meetings, isn’t part of the curriculum and isn’t taught.
“Show us anywhere you can find CRT in our curriculum,” Carmody said. “No one has brought anything to us at this point.”
During Thursday’s meeting, the board discussed a new state-mandated, elective Black and Latino studies course.
Frank Pepe, assistant superintendent, said parents and teachers will be giving feedback on the pilot course. It’ll intially include lessons about racial identities, factors that have contributed to racialized global conflict and identity and comfort with members in multiple groups in society.
“One of the most important pieces, the training that has gone along with curriculum, is creating a safe place for our kids to discover and discuss and identify,” he said.
Carmody, a retired teacher, said the school district lets students use their critical thinking skills to decide for themselves how they view the past.
“Teaching of history is teaching on the good and the bad and the ugly, we have to do it all,” she said.
Cipriano said she had faith in parents to come forward with concerns if a new curriculum on race was becoming divisive. She said there were definite stains on American history that should be taught, but also said that the worst moments shouldn’t define a person or nation.
“That doesn’t account for all of us and our freedoms and how far we’ve come,” she said.
The curriculum didn’t require a board vote. It was created with help from the State Education Resource Center.