A group that swelled to about 100 outside Central Middle School before Thursday’s Board of Education included familiar faces.
Many of the people at the rally had also attended Leora Levy’s press conference on Aug 31, the day after a Project Veritas hidden camera video of the Cos Cob School Assistant principal was released, showing him in an edited series of conversations bragging to a woman about how he discriminated in his hiring against teachers over 30 and Catholics.
Many of the same people had also griped at BOE meetings about curriculum, and the district’s remote learning and face masking policies during the pandemic.
Back in March 2021 complaints exploded after some second grade remote learners were shown an animated video that started out innocently enough, but then showed disturbing images including one graphic image.
That incident, like the Project Veritas video, quickly made national headlines.
After an investigation of the video shown to 2nd graders, Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones apologized and explained that the content had likely been designed for a private therapy session for children who have experienced trauma. The two second grade remote classes were assigned new teachers to finish out the remainder of the year.
Still the incident galvanized parents who didn’t believe it was an isolated incident.
And although today the Cos Cob Assistant Principal has been placed on leave and several investigations have been launched, 67 Republicans signed a letter last week requesting that the Schools Superintendent and her Deputy Anne Carabillo be put on leave.
With that on their minds, the letter writers and others sharing their concerns readied for the meeting, which included an hour of public comment.
With about 15 minutes left before the start of the BOE meeting, some people from the larger group moved toward the school entrance where a smaller group of about 30 people held up signs in support of teachers and Superintendent Dr. Jones chanted, “We support Dr. Jones,” and “We support public schools.”
For about 10 tense minutes, individual arguments broke out, and there was some angry shouting, including one woman who yelled, “You support pedophilia. You should be ashamed,” to a woman who identified herself as a retired teacher, while a third woman held up a poster of the unfortunate graphic image the second graders were shown in 2021.
During the public hearing portion of the BOE meeting in the auditorium, speakers included State Rep Kimberly Fiorello, who is running for re-electing in the 149th district.
“The refusal in Hartford to take on a parental rights bill, which I proposed, is indicative of how important your role is as the BOE to protect the rights of these parents,” Fiorello said.
“The schools serve the parents,” she said, raising her voice. “We must see the parents as the primary decision makers for our children.”
Fiorello was followed by Jackie Homan who said that in the past her complaints had been met with gaslighting and mockery by liberal parents, local press and the previous chairman of the BOE for her allegations.
“I’ve been coming to these meetings for the last year-and-a-half asking you to stop using profanity laced, sexually explicit and racially divisive racial content inside our schools,” Ms Homan said.
“But after 10 months of waiting, I’ve backed up my allegations with the results of a number of Freedom of Information requests,” she said, adding that the Project Veritas video had also corroborated her allegations.
“I don’t understand how we have so many scandals in this district, and we still have the same leadership in place,” she added. “You need to put the superintendent and deputy superintendent on leave while you conduct an independent, district wide investigation of all of the allegations.”
Former BOE member Peter Sherr, who is running for State Rep in the 151st district this November, addressed the board, saying, “I know that many of you may have personal or political animosities against me, so therefore you may not be listening to me. But I hope that tonight you will set those aside.”
Mr. Sherr said the school system was in a state of crisis.
“If you listen carefully to what Mr. Boland says, and he explains why he was doing what he was doing, that is far and away an existential threat to our public school system. He made clear his purpose of hiring teachers in this way would be so they could subtly send messages of a political nature, to cultivate students to have a particular political point of view when they leave the Greenwich school system.”
“You, as board members have had indicators, even when I was on the board, that this was happening.”
“You must protect the school system and you must separate yourselves from the employees, and you must conduct a comprehensive investigation so that the system can be brought back into balance and compliance with your existing policies.”
Carl Higbie said each incident in the district that had taken place had been categorized as a “mishap” or an “oversight.”
“We’re not some fringe group. We’re not domestic terrorists. We’re parents,” Higbie said. “We want appropriate education – reading, writing and arithmetic. Teach my kid how to put an astronaut on the moon. Maybe even teach them how to do laundry – we used to do that.”
“We have the highest paid teachers in the state, we should expect the highest test results in the state.”
Ilyssa Von Oss and Aimee Muth, co-chairs of PTAC’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee, a standing committee, said their mission was to foster an overall sense of belonging within the GPS community by building relationships and inviting diverse perspectives.
Ms Von Oss said this month they launched a PTAC DEI website with content celebrating the multi-cultural community.
Ms Muth said her committee was eager to hear how the new state mandated Black & Latino Studies class was going at GHS.
A number of parents praised Dr. Jones and the district.
“What I have seen is a superintendent who operates with integrity, grace and a can-do attitude. She has been the superintendent for three years, during which she reopened the schools,” said Kathy Brady.
She noted that the superintendent is in charge of 15 schools, 8,600 students and thousands of employees, and prior to her arrival the district went through over 13 superintendents in 20 years.
She said Jones was a strong and stabilizing force, and while the Project Veritas video was shocking, she urged the board to let the investigations play out.
“Have all the answers. Get all the facts. Don’t shoot first and ask questions later,” she said.
Janet McMahon said the School Climate Survey revealed almost 60% of students in grades 3-12 felt school was interesting, useful and important, up from 55% the previous year. Similarly, she said, 84% of parents felt they were welcomed partners in their child’s learning.
“These are incredible metrics that the GPS administration should be proud of and the GPS community should be celebrating,” McMahon said. “Instead, there was an ugly partisan rally outside, attended by a vocal few, who continue to terrorize our teachers, politicize our schools, polarize parents, and derail our school board meetings.”
“I consider myself an active participant in my children’s education and never once have I suspected or experienced any indoctrination by any teacher or administrator,” McMahon added. “Neither have I encountered anything remotely close to CRT or any of the political propaganda that these same protesters allege at every single board meeting.”
James Waters, a parent at NMS and EMS said he’d collected input from parents and found their priorities were addressing learning loss, making progress on school enhance school security, and completing the investigation and taking action on the hidden video.
“I don’t think anyone here supports indoctrination of our kids or hiring discrimination,” Waters said. “Your provision of due process, transparent reporting of the findings and appropriate action are critical to putting this disgusting event behind us.”
He said parents the parents he collected input from were engaged on the topic of school infrastructure.
“People are tired of crumbling schools,” Waters said. “The rebuilding of Central Middle School is a top priority and I encourage you to carefully consider the important need to renovate Old Greenwich School and Julian Curtiss, and make long overdue ADA improvements and complete Cardinal Field Phase 2, the GHS track, Western Middle School fields, and cellular service at GHS.”
Lorelei O’Hagan said on the topic of discrimination in the public schools, she felt the Board had discriminated in January against trans students by their reluctance to codify Title IX for students.
Dr. Jones said she had notified the Cos Cob Community that Karen Vitti had been installed as acting Assistant Principal. She said an internal investigation was being conducted in addition to one by the CT Attorney General’s office, and one by the town which is in the process of narrowing down finalists.
“I’m not going to be able to give answers quickly. Whenever you are in an investigation such as this, the legal precedence has to take place and people have due process rights and it can take weeks, sometimes months.”
Jones said the district’s internal investigation was being managed through the Human Resources Dept, led by Dr. Jonathan Budd.
BOE chair Kathleen Stowe said an official Special Operations Committee had been launched and First Selectman Fred Camillo and attorney Barbara Shellenberg from Marino, Zabel & Schellenberg, who represents the town, said Greenwich was close to hiring an independent investigator, a costly process.