School Board Approves Support For Letter To President Trump Denouncing Hoaxers
The Board of Education voted at its meeting on Wednesday, February 1, in support of having its chair, Keith Alexander, sign a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to denounce people across the country who believe the Sandy Hook tragedy never occurred.The Newtown Bee (see page A1, January 27, 2017), specifically calls out President Trump's apparent friendship and apparent lack of concern about Alex Jones, whose Infowars website and radio program frequently deny the mass shooting, which took the lives of 20 Newtown children and six Sandy Hook Elementary School educators on December 14, 2012.The letter was also discussed at the January 27 Board of Finance meeting.
Democratic Town Committee Chair Eric Paradis originally penned a letter to President Trump, hoping it would be signed by most or all elected town leaders before being sent to the president.
The letter has been presented to local boards and leaders for feedback and support. The letter, as previously reported by
The Board of Education originally discussed, but held off, approving the letter at its January 17 meeting. At the time, Mr Alexander said he could sign for his entire board, if approved by board members.
This week, school board member Rebekah Harriman-Stites said she understands concerns about sensitivity and potential backlash from the letter. "But I am not the type of person who backs down from bullies," she said, adding the situation feels like the town is being bullied with the expectation the community will remain silent.
Board Vice Chair Michelle Embree Ku agreed, and said reports she has heard makes the situation feel "just wrong. And I think we should stand up to that."
As representatives of the students and parents of Newtown, member John Vouros said the situation is "incredulous to me that there are people out there that say these types of things, and we lived it."
Board member Andrew Clure asked why the school board had to wait for other boards to sign the letter.
"It happened to the schools and that is what we are in charge of speaking for," said Mr Clure, who later brought up the idea of having the school board send its own letter if the current letter is not sent or takes too long to be sent.
After saying he also sees the situation to be like standing up to a bully, board member Dan Cruson, Jr, expressed concern over the wording of the letter. He also cautioned against potential backlash to the families most impacted by the tragedy. The letter, he said, could also cause further attention from the media, and, if President Trump does not respond to the letter, he is concerned it would "feed the hoaxers" more.
"If you know something is right and you know something is just, then you have to stand up for it," Ms Harriman-Stites said in response, adding the letter speaks for the community as a whole and not specifically for the impacted families or anyone.
Sharing his general agreement with Ms Harriman-Stites, Mr Alexander also expressed his concern for potential unintended repercussions for the impacted families.
After Mr Vouros expressed frustration that "nothing is getting done," the board amended its motion to approve Mr Alexander sign the letter by February 20 to express urgency to other town boards.
When the date was pointed out, Mr Alexander said February 20, "That would be Presidents' Day. I like that."
The timing, Mr Alexander said, would also allow all the other boards involved to hold one meeting before that date. Whether signed by other boards or not, as approved in the motion, the letter could be sent with the school board's signature.
The board voted 5-1 in support of the motion, with Mr Cruson against it. Board Secretary Debbie Leidlein was not present for the meeting.