Zukowski: BOE Meeting Was ‘Learning Experience’ As GOP Leaders Condemn Behavior
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.