A silent protest was held outside West Hartford Town Hall Tuesday night, but several of the protestors spoke during the Board of Education meeting.
By Ronni Newton
A group of roughly 20 people spent an hour standing silently outside West Hartford Town Hall Tuesday night prior to the Board of Education meeting, sharing messages of “Black Lives Matter,” “Safe Schools for All,” and “Zero Tolerance for Hate” on posters and the t-shirts they wore.
Still silent, the group processed into the 7 p.m. meeting and all took seats in Council chambers. Although a policy adopted by the Board of Education in June restricts non-agenda-related comments to the first meeting of the month, which took place Sept. 5, Board Chair Lorna Thomas-Farquharson made a motion to suspend the rules for the meeting to allow those present to address the Board. Suspension of the rules requires a two-thirds majority for approval, and the Board passed the motion unanimously.
Che’La’Mora Hardy, the parent of a Sedgwick Middle School eighth grader, has been asking the West Hartford Public Schools for answers after alleging that one of her son’s teachers not only used a racial slur in the classroom, but racially targeted her son after he asked her for clarification.
In a previous interview with We-Ha.com, Hardy said that on the third day of school her son’s math teacher was going over class rules with a PowerPoint, including the use of inappropriate language.
Hardy said during that Sept. 7 interview that her son told her that he asked the teacher for more information about what she meant. “He asked, ‘What words are those?’” Hardy said. The teacher, Hardy said, responded to her son: “You know what I’m talking about. You guys use this term all the time.” Her son told her the teacher used the “N-word” twice as an example, once with the “-er” ending and once with the “-a” ending.
The teacher “racially profiled my son. That was racially motivated,” Hardy said. She said he was still upset about the incident that occurred first thing in the morning when he got home that afternoon.
Hardy was among the silent protestors Tuesday night, but did not speak during the meeting. Her son’s grandmother, however, was one of the eight people who did address the Board.
“There’s many ways to speak on this kind of a subject. You don’t have to use the actual word,” said Lee Thomas-Morton, grandmother of the Sedgwick student. “She actually stuck him out. … It is unacceptable. He is a Black child in America,” she said.
“I can’t tell you what she was thinking but I can tell you that she wasn’t thinking,” Thomas-Morton said. She said if a teacher of color had done something like that to a white child, “we would be looking at the back of their head as they walked out the door.” She said she is concerned about the long-term impact of the incident on how her grandson feels going into a classroom.
Thomas-Morton and others who addressed the Board were looking for answers about the next step and the status of the teacher.
Ivelisse Correa of BLM 860 said West Hartford taxpayers should not be funding a teacher who acts this way. “I don’t think that is someone who should be working with students of color,” she said, adding that she hopes the incident is taken seriously.
Superintendent of Schools Paul Vicinus issued a statement on Sept. 7, but did not provide any further updates Tuesday.
In that Sept. 7 message he said the report regarding the alleged use of a racial slur is being taken very seriously. He stated that the district “acted immediately in removing the teacher from the classroom. We are conducting a thorough investigation while simultaneously taking all appropriate steps to ensure the safety of our students and providing all necessary supports. Pending the outcome of the investigation, we will take appropriate action, and while we will not prejudge the outcome, the serious nature of this incident may merit suspension and/or termination.”
Prior to voting with the rest of the Board in favor of the motion to suspend the rules to allow non-agenda comments on Tuesday night, Republican Gayle Harris noted that she had opposed the change that restricted the comment policy in June. “What I don’t want to be is an arbiter of free speech,” she said Tuesday, deciding who is deserving of a rule suspension.
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