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Zukowski: BOE Meeting Was ‘Learning Experience’ As GOP Leaders Condemn Behavior



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A statement signed by the heads of the Newtown Republican Town Committee expressed concerns with the behavior of residents in attendance at a May 16 Board of Education meeting, noting foul language, obscene gestures, berating of BOE members and members of the public that supported removals of the books, among other “aggressive” behavior.

The statement, signed by William DeRosa, chair; Angela Curri, vice chair; Michele Buzzi, secretary, and John Madzula 2nd, treasurer; calls the meeting “a sad day for the town of Newtown” and the actions of the Democratic Town Committee and Newtown Allies for Change “a display of vile aggression and hostility rarely, if ever, seen in our town towards volunteer BOE members.”

“The conversation about the books was completely overshadowed by the egregious behavior of those the Democrats rallied to come out to the meeting,” stated the RTC. “To describe what took place that evening words cannot express, as only those in attendance could truly understand. We witnessed extreme name calling (names we can’t in good conscience put in print), loud obnoxious disruptions when BOE members tried to speak, laughing and mocking when opposing views were spoken, middle fingers being used toward elected volunteers, hollering, chanting, including one BOE member who actually had an object thrown at them.”

According to the statement, BOE Chairman Deborra Zukowski had to ask the room to clear after multiple attempts to calm “aggressive behavior” by attendees, who the statement says “refused to leave.”

“The DTC is aware of public participation rules and decorum and they purposely showed utter lack of regard for these rules,” stated the RTC. “The DTC openly recruited people from out of town to speak and attend the rally they held prior to the meeting. Obviously, the DTC encouraged and endorsed the disrespectful and disruptive behavior that was on full display [May 16].”

Zukowski, in an interview with The Newtown Bee on May 23, stated,” I warned that I could clear the room, and when the disruption grew again, I did say I wanted to clear the room. However, I heard fellow Board members suggest I not do so. After that one, the public disruption did not grow again to the point where we could not conduct business.

Zukowski referred to the meeting as a “learning experience.”

“I will be attempting other ways to address public disruption,” said Zukowski. “Hopefully, we will be able to finish our next meeting. If not, it will be because of public disturbance, intimidation, and bullying — certainly not something that is in the best interest of our students, staff, and community.”

The RTC’s statement goes on to state Republican BOE members “came to the table to offer solutions of compromise for both sides of the argument,” but they felt the Democratic members refused to compromise, leaving multiple votes in deadlock.

“The Newtown Republican Town Committee stands by our elected Republican members of the BOE who have undoubtedly been grappling with this difficult decision for weeks,” according to the statement from the RTC. “We are proud of the fact that despite the environment they were subjected to, they maintained their composure and remained committed to working to find a solution to this very difficult issue.”

A second statement on the RTC’s Facebook page mentions the DTC’s rally ahead of the meeting and states that the crowd was “clearly incited to anger over the meeting taking place.” It mentions that those rallying met with Democratic BOE members to discuss the topic prior to it coming onto the agenda, and notes that the parental challenge was being framed as “anti-LGBT.”

“Before any motions were made local Democrats, including some former elected officials, were accusing the Board of being political, with some suggesting conspiracy theories, that there was money funding this local challenge, or that it was a coordinated national effort,” according to the statement. “One current board member even gave a speaker a thumbs up after a bigoted rant against Christians and their ‘fascist agenda.’ People also defended keeping the challenged materials with arguments suggesting your kids can see porn anyway and that parents should not get to decide what their children read, trust the experts.”

The statement goes on to say that “Republican BOE members acknowledged the concerns on all sides and offered compromises which the three Democrat members refused to consider” and expressed concern over audience members shouting over and heckling the board through the meeting.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Alex Villamil stated he felt a RTC Facebook post montaging footage of five speakers vehemently opposing the book challenges was "taken out of context" and "portrayed in a very negative light." He noted that the montage did not include anything of "the other 35 speakers who were not as animated" as the five featured in the montage.

On the DTC’s Facebook page, a post on May 17 indicates that the group plans to “continue to show up,” and “the numbers and opposition will continue to grow.”

“We stand with the experts, the teachers, the students and the people of Newtown who know that there is no place for censorship through book banning in Newtown,” stated the DTC in the post.

Villamil said the DTC is planning a rally on Tuesday, May 30, time and location to be determined. A special meeting to discuss the book challenges and possibly make a decision will be conducted at 7 pm Thursday, June 1, at the Newtown High School auditorium.

"We are continuing the fight against this attempt by external forces to come into town and tell our students what they can or can't read," said Villamil.

Zukowski said the Board of Education is “trying to have a discussion that seeks to understand the core concerns of all of our local citizens about the two books and reasonable options to address those concerns.”

“Since our last meeting, we have been able to visit the library media centers and speak directly with the specialists, which was very useful,” said Zukowski. “I am hopeful that we can reach a reasoned and well-supported decision at our next meeting.”

Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

Board of Education Chair Deborra Zukowski
Comments are open. Be civil.
  1. brendan_l says:

    This is what happens when politics gets involved. Politics ruin everything these days. Many people have replaced their traditional religions with politics and it is a disaster. Everyone needs to take a step back from their politics and go outside for some sunshine and fresh air.

    Politics is the reason this book controversy has blown up to the obnoxiousness and straight up bullying we saw on full display at the May 16 meeting. And, apparently, more political rallies are being organized. Hopefully the rally on May 30 is to convince everyone they need to apologize for their behaviors and start acting like adults.

    Your politics, whether D or R, need to be kept 1000 feet or more from our schools.

  2. phydeaux says:

    “Before any motions were made local Democrats, including some former elected officials, were accusing the Board of being political, with some suggesting conspiracy theories, that there was money funding this local challenge, or that it was a coordinated national effort” Accuse your opposition of doing exactly what you are doing.-Alinsky, Rules for Radicals

  3. ryan knapp says:

    I don’t understand the conspiracy theories that this is prompted by “outside forces” when for years I have heard from parents concerned about what is going on in NPS. Even the characterization of a “book ban” is not grounded in reality as evident in the minutes. No one of either party moved to “ban” or even remove the challenged books; every motion on the 16th would have allowed them to remain and the debate was about parental approval for children below a particular age.

    1. teacher_citizen says:

      You don’t know why some see the ban as being prompted by “outside forces”? It might be because the people who challenged the books had never read them and didn’t even know they were on the shelves until they read the Moms of Liberty lists of books to look for. The tactics they use are identical to the attempts to ban nationwide. The books are the same. The pages they read and post to Facebook groups are the same. The language they use in their challenges are the same. If this isn’t being prompted by outside forces, then how would the challengers be able to do all that to books that were never checked out of the library?

      1. voter says:

        I read this argument a lot and it leaves me wondering: if Gov DeSantis showed up at your front door with a petition supporting a particular policy you hold near & dear to your heart would you run him off your property yelling “keep your outside forces out of my town!”? I’m not that smart but I do understand that there are groups nationwide crafting policy on both sides of the debate. That understanding does not change how I feel about minor children’s exposure to some of these materials and it does not change my support for other parents and locally elected representatives that feel even more strongly than I do about the subject.

  4. klifferd says:

    Blaming residents for being angry at the Republicans is offensively tone deaf. If the GOP wants to enact fascism they should expect historical precedence of Americans against fascism.

    1. brendan_l says:

      I think you need to look up fascism in the dictionary

  5. wingeey says:

    The continued anti-democracy behavior from local elected republicans is shameful. They ignored the overwhelming will of the people on the plastic bag ban and again on the fracking ban. Now they’re attacking our first amendment rights against the overwhelming will of the people. Forty residents spoke in favor of rejecting the book ban while only 4 spoke in support of a ban (almost exactly the same ratio of those who spoke against killing the plastic bag ban). And the expert commission appointed by the BOE also unanimously rejected the idea of a book ban. So why is there still a question on the table? When will locally elected republicans start acting honorably again and start fulfilling their sworn obligations to represent the will of the people again?

    1. voter says:

      Anti-Democratic takes on a different definition in this case. The overwhelming will of the people in the last local election was ‘anti-democratic’. And if you want to trot out the plastic bag ban again, don’t do it in the same comment that references “the experts” – check around, “the experts” on conservation would never choose paper bags over plastic if the goal is conserving resources.

    2. brendan_l says:

      The will of the people was to democratically elect these Republicans to represent them. Just because there was a 10:1 ratio of supporters/challengers at the BOE meeting doesn’t mean you know how everyone in town views this controversy. Our town has a population of about 27k and you are saying 40 of them overwhelmingly represent us?

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