Watching the Playbook Play Out

Former NPS DEI Director, Wes Johnson addresses the BOE about their continual push back against DEI.

Well, here we are again. Another late-night Board of Education meeting in Newtown with more parents in attendance and more passionate speeches about the protection of First Amendment rights, the importance of representation in literature, and the ability to handle more mature material by high school aged students. I went into this meeting incredibly jaded, but hopeful that the BOE would do their job and listen to the experts’ opinions and rulings.

For over an hour citizen after citizen spoke to the board. All these citizens approached the microphone with one goal in mind; let’s do what is best for the students in Newtown. However, what one group believes is best for the students is at odds with what the other group believes. While one group is concerned about their own children gaining access to a book which they believe has the potential to cause harm to children, the other is concerned about all children and the representation that is available in the books.

Despite the advice of professional educators assigned to a special committee to review the challenged books, the Republican members of the board were immovable. Even when professionals explained to them their roles as elected officials, not one member would acquiesce and agree that they simply need to uphold the policies and procedures already put into place. When warnings of wasted time and resources came up when discussions of the First Amendment were on the table, Jenn Larkin was heard to say, in what seemed to be a moment of frustration, “I am not particularly worried about the First Amendment.”

At the end of the evening the BOE was split down the middle about removing the books Flamer and Blankets from the High School Library. As they kick the proverbial can down the road one more time (presumably to wait for Don Ramsey to be in attendance as he had a family issue come up and therefore was not in attendance), we can see the writing on the wall. Our Republicans refuse to listen to the administrators, the experts, and the students. They will simply vote along party lines and open the Newtown School District up to lawsuits for a violation of the First Amendment. It was clear that they did not come to listen to the public or the experts. Both Larkin and Kuzma came in prepared to limit access of a book geared for ages 12+. These people then had the audacity to blame the Democratic members of an unwillingness to compromise.

Just a reminder to anyone who is interested; compromise was not on the table. The discussion and decision is about allowing our experts to do their jobs and to allow books to remain on the shelves in the high school library.

Here’s the interesting thing: If we were not aware of what was going on in the district with the “Our Kids Deserve Better” moms pushing their political agenda into our district, the Board could have easily enacted what is known as quiet censorship. Quiet censorship is where materials are purposefully removed, limited, or not even purchased despite it being a title that would serve the community. In fact, with the ways in which Deb Zukowski, Janet Kuzma, Jenn Larkin, and even Don Ramsey (when he has been present) ignore the advice of the expert panel of administrators, it seems as if they were hoping that this would not become public knowledge. Possibly they hoped to simply move ahead, pretending to go through the proper channels but using their majority presence to push ahead political agendas and quietly remove books from our library until they are able to change the policy.

So, what do we do? It feels like we are at the end of the road for this. It can feel hopeless and exhausting to fight for what is morally and ethically and lawfully right. It feels like despite fighting for protection of the First Amendment (because we know that this will not stop with two books and will turn into much more), these political puppets will continue to toe the party line and brazenly drag our school district into the battles which many other districts are having. However, we cannot stop the fight. We must continue to show up and speak. We must continue to draw attention to this behavior and political plan.

Remember, the function of the Board of Education is not to be political but to support the students and the educators. Following the Constitution of the United States is not showing loyalty to Democrats or to Republicans; it is showing loyalty to the country. These amendments were put in to protect our citizens. History shows what happens after books are banned. None of this ends well.