Republican BOE Members Kuzma And Larkin Resign
UPDATE: This report was modified at 8:15 am June 1 to clarify the school board members' letters of resignation were hand delivered to The Newtown Bee by those former officials, and to add statements from the RTC Chairman and another school board member.
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Republican Board of Education members Jennifer Larkin and Janet Kuzma submitted resignation letters to the Town Clerk and school board chair on May 31 before visiting The Newtown Bee offices to provide copies for the record.
Larkin’s letter to Town Clerk Debbie Halstead and Board Chair Deb Zukowski was primarily one of gratitude toward the people of Newtown for allowing her “the privilege of representing them through their votes in this position,” and to the Republican Town Committee for continued support and for choosing her as a candidate.
She said she looks forward to “continuing her educational advocacy for Newtown Public Schools” while better balancing time with family and full-time work.
Echoing sentiments in Larkin’s statement, Kuzma concluded her letter by thanking the voters for electing her and said it has been an honor to serve. The body of Kuzma’s letter, however, dove more deeply into her personal reasons for resigning.
Kuzma said she had wrestled with the decision over the past few weeks with “mixed emotions about stepping down” because of her serious commitment to the responsibility and tireless work in the role she was elected to serve. Kuzma said she has honored the commitment, but she “can no longer comfortably serve the community in this capacity.”
Kuzma said her departure “is not a result of the issue at hand” in reference to the book challenges the school board is considering for action and a pending vote, but after “the abhorrent and vile behavior” at the May 16 Board of Education meeting.
“Moreover,” Kuzma continued, “I am resigning due to the complete lack of condemnation of this behavior by leadership at all levels.”
Increasingly large groups of people — teachers, parents and students — have been attending and speaking at the local BOE meetings since at least early April, when discussions began concerning Flamer and Blankets. The former is a semi-autographical graphic novel by Mike Curato published in 2020; the latter is an autobiographical novel by Craig Thompson published in 2003.
Debate has concerned whether the books should be kept on the shelves of the high school and middle school.
The now former BOE member said adults should be setting an example by “modeling respectful behavior and condemning poor behavior,” especially in the presence of students. Kuzma said she believes the May 16 meeting should not have happened, referencing Board Member Donald Ramsey’s absence to care for his dying wife — and her motion to postpone.
She wrote what disappointed her most were others at the table “who were not the target of the negative behavior” and who “to this day have not condemned the behavior that we were subjected to.”
Kuzma said her family has been brought into the conversation “more than once by a small but vocal minority of school employees and community members” and that she never imagined her volunteer role would negatively impact her family.
“Every resident of Newtown should be concerned, and frankly embarrassed, that elected volunteer officials can be subject to such behavior without impediment,” Kuzma wrote in her resignation letter. “I have too much respect for myself and for my family to continue working in such a hostile environment."
Kuzma said she believes this is a sad day for Newtown as she was someone who served for “the right reasons,” wanting to give back to her community with “no political aspirations” beyond the Board of Education. She said she will continue to support educators who have shown her family respect, volunteer in her children’s schools, and “pray for our community to regain a sense of civility in the face of differing opinions.”
In a comment for The Newtown Bee, Board Chair Deborra Zukowski said she is sad to announce Kuzma and Larkin's resignation.
"They both were very committed to all of our students and families, as well as dedicated to the overall work of the Board," Zukowski continued. "Their energy, tenaciousness, team spirit, and constructive contributions to our discussions will be sorely missed."
With two vacancies, the BOE now consists of Republicans Zukowski and Ramsey, and Democrats Dan Cruson, Alison Plante, and John Vouros.
The topic of removing the two contentious titles will be raised during a special Board of Education scheduled for Thursday, June 1, at Newtown High School. Following public participation, the single-item agenda calls for “discussion and possible action on citizen’s requests for reconsideration of library media materials.”
The meeting will begin at 7 pm in the NHS cafeteria. It will be livestreamed on YouTube.
Newtown Republican Town Committee Chairman William DeRosa replied to a request for comment after the newspaper's print edition deadline. The statement, also endorsed by RTC Executive Board members Angela Curi, Michele Buzzi, and John Madzula II, relates that they "are saddened, but not surprised given the treatment they have endured over a series of recent events, to have received resignations from two of our board of education members, Jenn Larkin and Janet Kuzma.
"The conduct displayed at the meeting on May 16th was the height of outrageous behavior that has been building ever since they took office," the statement continues. "Without civil discourse, public participation is not possible.
"There is something horribly wrong in our community when town volunteers and even private citizens who send an e-mail, speak at a meeting, or write a letter to the editor are subject to harassment. When citizens committed to their town decide that it is not worth their time to volunteer, we all lose."
The RTC statement goes on to say, "We want the return of civil discourse and mutual respect among our citizens, which is why the Newtown Republican Town Committee has not organized rallies, not invited any 'national groups' (as alleged) to participate in any town issue, and has not contacted outside media to come in and exploit our town.
"We want our town to return to be Nicer in Newtown and will do our part," the RTC statement concludes.
Republican school board member Don Ramsey also contacted The Bee and provided the following statement: "My concern is that two 'grassroots' individuals of sound heart and mind have resigned from our Board of Education to protect the integrity of their families.
"Now is the time for public reflection in our community to review how volunteer elected officials are engaged by the public within BOE meetings, letters to the editor, and social media posts," his statement continued. "It is a very sad thing to lose authentic good people by means of tactics by organized political and/or activist groups. The hard working tenacity of both Jenn Larkin and Janet Kuzma will be greatly missed."
Reporter Noelle Veillette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.