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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Board Chair: We Have No Role

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The Westport Board of Education chairwoman told parents again tonight that the board has no role in the case surrounding the Bedford Middle School science teacher’s departure.

A group of about 30 parents attended tonight’s meeting to again ask for Ejay Clark’s reinstatement, but also asked for a response from board members.

“Like it or not, the board has no role,” said Mary Parmelee, board chairwoman. “The board is ruled by state statutes, and state statutes do not grant us the power to hold a hearing.”

Parmelee said she was working under the advice of the board’s attorney.

Clark resigned in March after he received a letter saying Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon was going to recommend his termination to the school board, according to Clark’s attorney.

Earlier this week Clark’s attorney said his client had withdrawn his resignation and sought a hearing on his future as a teacher in Westport, but Landon said he would not accept the withdrawal (See WestportNow June 26).

Parmelee said there is no way to address the situation because the board is not allowed to have a discussion with parents on the matter because of state statutes.


Posted 06/29/06 at 12:11 AM  Permalink


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The headline could just as easily be:
Dr Landon to Parents: DROP DEAD

Posted by Jeff Seaver on June 29, 2006 at 11:54 AM | #

This board does not care about the parents or the children effected by this. They simply want it to go away and be forgotten.  How long will these tactics be tolerated?  Everyone sitting on that board, hiding behind their lawer, should be ashamed at the manipulation they are personally causing this community.

In the simplest terms, Mr. Clark’s case has shown us that the system has major flaws allowing an exemplary teacher to be tossed aside as a byproduct of those flaws.  WHO WILL BE NEXT?

Posted by David Rosenfield on June 29, 2006 at 08:26 PM | #

<<Mary Parmelee, board chairwoman. “The board is ruled by state statutes, and state statutes do not grant us the power to hold a hearing.”>>

True. However, neither do the statutes preclude a hearing.  The Board can construe its power narrowly or broadly. The Board opted for the former to suit its needs.

Deciding to replace Mr. Clark and creating a situation where he had no choice but to resign was a bad decision by Superintendent Landon.  Failing to rectify the situation when they could have if they wanted was a bad decision by the Board.

It appears Ms. Parmelee did not have teacher like Mr. Clark to explain that two wrongs do in fact not make a right.

Posted by Tom King on June 29, 2006 at 08:29 PM | #

After having been at last night’s BOE meeting, I was frankly appalled at the lack of respect the Board and Elliot Landon continue to have for the people of this town and more specifically the children of this town.

How can a Board of Ed hide their heads in the sand on an issue that is so heartfelt by so many students and their parents?  Why are they on the Board in the first place….I would like to know.

To use coercion and underhandedness in a matter of such great importance as a teacher’s future, would seem to be a very serious issue for the BOE to look into. They continue to claim that this is not a matter for their Board. But do Mary Parmalee and Dr. Landon speak for the rest of the Board?  I would love to know.  Last night it seemed that they did, and that was very depressing to me.

To the people of Westport who have never even heard of Ejay Clark before this, YOU should be concerned about how this town’s school system is run. It appears to be run behind closed doors, to have public discussion only if it is deemed safe (ie. cookies in the cafeteria, new boilers etc…), and to not come forth with information even when requested under the Freedom Of Information Act….a practice which is happening currently and has in the past.

Ejay Clark’s situation is not an isolated case.  There are other teachers who have been railroaded out in very similar situations. Is this what we want? I certainly hope not.

Please urge your town officials to do the right thing.  It is your right as a voting public to have your voices heard.  Lets hope that there are some on the BOE who have a heart and will step up to the plate and serve their community as they were elected to do.

Posted by lisa bowman on June 29, 2006 at 10:35 PM | #

I think it is a travisty when so many of the students in any school in any town react so strongly to a teacher and then have that teacher pulled out from under them. It is a further abomination when in a democratic society as we try to teach our kids to speak up an join our voices together to effect change that we are shut out and shut down in an underhanded, cowardly manner.

I find it comical that as one BOE hand was essentially telling our entire town to stick it, that the board voted in a raise for Elliott Landon. Did anyone want to take a vote on how the town feels about his work performance and if he had earned and/or deserved a raise?

Watching this situation play itself out makes it easier to understand why our government is in such a shambles.

Posted by Sally Mulvey on June 30, 2006 at 01:58 AM | #

Ejay facts:
Ejay received 31 of 31 top category ratings on his teacher evaluation 05/06.
Ejay wrote Dr. Elliot Landon to ask for council and advice.
Ejay was coerced to resign, and promised written recommendations if he would resign.
Ejay provided complete written defense of class critiques, yet was denied appeal hearing.
Ejay was wrongly accused by Dr Landon, at BMS, of propagating a student petition, and called a liar in front of administration co-workers, 3 days after first parent appeal at BofEd meeting.
Dr Landon stated in the press Ejay was no longer an employee prior to end of his contract term.
6 of 9 BMS science teachers have 2 years or less at BMS.
This denial of communication to the students and parents supporting Ejay Clark, is only surpassed by the lack of concern, respect and dignity that has been extended to Ejay Clark.
Ejay has conducted himself as a gentleman and professional as he continued to teach through this harsh treatment.
Student, parent and taxpayer input has no place in teacher evaluation in Westport schools.
Taxpayer input has no place in superintendent evaluations. Extensions of contract and pay raises are voted on behind closed doors in Westport.

Posted by Robert Rosenfield on June 30, 2006 at 04:29 AM | #

The BOE are not the bad guys in the Ejay Clark situation.  As I studied the faces of its members I saw looks of compassion, and possibly frustration in their inability to do anything to change this unfortunate issue.  When I looked into the face of Superintendent Landon, I saw something completely different.  I saw a man wishing that this “nightmare” would just go away.  I believe this silence on his part will only add fuel to the fire.  We need answers.  Answers to hard questions like, “Why doesn’t Mr. Clark know why he was not rehired?”  “Was Mr. Clark given an opportunity for professional development to correct any deficient teaching on his part?”  “How many teachers have resigned as a result of Westport evaluation process under Dr. Landon’s term of employment?”  These are just a few of the questions that parents (and no doubt staff members) want answers to.  Policy is set by the administration, and we must look into the school system’s ploicy for evaluation and granting tenure to protect good teachers, and keep them where they belong-in the classroom working with our kids.
Bradley Peterson
3 Keenes Rd

Posted by Bradley Peterson on June 30, 2006 at 12:21 PM | #

The Superintendent and the Board of Education work for the community.  It is saliently clear that the community—parents and students alike—want Mr. Clark to teach Westport’s students.  They work FOR the community, yet they are unwilling, in the very least, to listen to, respond to, or even acknowledge the voices and opinions of the community.  To be sure, this is bad PR for Westport.  This story has been all over the news.  What message does this send to new, highly qualified teachers seeking employment and to experienced, well recognized teachers, like myself, looking to make a move?  “Stay away from the Westport Public Schools!”

Posted by Dean J. Vaccaro on June 30, 2006 at 12:35 PM | #

As I have stated in prior comments, it is a shame that the governing council for our school system is teaching our children that speaking out to effect change is fruitless as long as there is government red tape to hide behind.

The BOE has taken the stance that it is not within their power to do anything to rectify this issue. That said, the BOE is also very aware of the overwhelming support of Mr. Clark has within the community. I would think that if Westport’s Board of Education had the best interest of the students involved, they would be joining in the fight to come up with a way of changing the procedure for such things. If state stautes do not grant them the power to hold a hearing, why are they not taking an active role in petitioning the state to change these laws? This is in the best interest of their school system, yet they are perfectly comfortable in saying “it’s out of our control”.

The esteemed members of the board sit are there to put into effect the desires of the people within their town. Since the desires of the people are obvious, the board members should be joining in this fight to come up with a way to implement them. Instead they are simply hiding behind rhetoric and excuses - passing the buck so that they don’t have to face up to the obvious shortcomings in the review process.

Posted by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on June 30, 2006 at 05:37 PM | #

It is frustrating to see otherwise intelligent and caring people, who devote so much of their lives to the betterment of Westport education, look like deer caught in the headlights when faced with a controversial issue like tenure review. I saw that from the podium Wednesday night at the Board of Education meeting as I spoke again for action on the history of suspicious non-renewals of extraordinary teachers. If it weren’t so tragic, I would find humor in the irony of our distinguished Board members being influenced to silence and inaction by legal counsel and Dr. Landon, in the same way that good teachers have been compelled to keep silent and leave.

I have never seen so much fear of controversy nor such a lack of ownership on an issue that is so central to the welfare of our schools. If the Board of Education can not be called upon to be the public’s conscience and actively oversee District process on matters of this magnitude, then why not just make them assistants to the superintendent, and dispense with the formality of a vote? I do not believe that the State of Connecticut intended that when they formed local boards of education, nor do the state statutes imply the kind the myopic interpretation of the Board’s powers as does their legal counsel and Dr. Landon.

Simply put, the Chairwoman’s statement on Wednesday told Westport parents that it is a waste of our time to care about the quality of our education. This is how it is. Rest easy. You’re in good hands.

I feel much better now.

Posted by Paul Einarsen on June 30, 2006 at 06:40 PM | #

The BOE has no power to overturn the personnel decisions made by the superintendent.  However, it is well within their reach to suggest to the person that they hired that perhaps he is making a mistake.  Perhaps he might take a different approach.  Perhaps the townspeople are not satisfied with his performance.  Perhaps the BOE members are tired of being confronted daily, and having to defend his actions year after year.
Perhaps not…

Posted by Dan Lasley on June 30, 2006 at 09:12 PM | #

What is going on with the BOE members?  Who do they serve?  Do they forget they are our elected officials and that we did not elect them to be Landon’s Lackeys?  Do any of them have the spine to stand up to Landon?

They do have the power to look into this situation on any of a number of avenues, but instead they choose to listen to Landon on the one way out.

Is the press that they are causing to be generated the way we want the rest of Connecticut to view the Westport school system?  Do we want a system that honors coercion by giving an ineffective superintendent a renewed contract?  How could a single one of these BOE members vote to renew his contract when they are being made aware of his use of coercion to scare teachers into compliance with a cookie cutter mold of teaching?

And our BOE chairwoman makes the statement that Landon is so good at hiring people - but is that the truth - I guess only if you think hiring School Admnistrators who will follow and aid and abet his coercive tactics is a good thing.

The BOE and especially Landon and the school administrators need to be reminded who they work for - US.  We did not put them into office so they can operate a fiefdom, be their own czars over OUR school district.  If protecting their power is all they are interested in, then we should not be interested in them and they must go.

Posted by Alan Clement on July 01, 2006 at 11:35 AM | #

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that   they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Posted by chip stephens on July 03, 2006 at 05:58 PM | #

Chip and Alan;
Democracy is fully functional in Westport, as is freedom of speach.  The majority of the citizens approve of the way that the BOE is functioning, at least as indicated by the most recent election.  We DID put them there.  The actions of the BOE and Superintendent are not new, they are typical of many things done for the past 10 years or more.  This is not “Abuse (sic) without representation”, this is abuse by our representatives. 
As with any other actions by our elected officials at any level, just because we disagree with their decisions, doesn’t mean that they are not duly elected and acting within their powers.
And to be honest, I’ve thought about running for BOE, but the hours and dedication are well beyond my reach.
But I do like the historical imagery…

Posted by Dan Lasley on July 03, 2006 at 06:35 PM | #

Dan -

The point you seem to be missing is our right to be heard.  If you have been following this story, at least 100 parents showed up at a BOE meeting and we do not believe we are being listened to.  I agree this is a democracy, but in a democracy our elected representatives are supposed to listen to their constituents and respond.  Here, there is no response other than hiding behind alleged jurisdictional barriers.  We have researched the issue and the alleged jurisdictional barriers, like all laws, can be gotten around.  Instead, the Board, either at the behest of Elliott Landon or not, are burying their heads in the sand on this one.  We will not allow this to happen - we the voters will be heard on this one way or another.  The BOE was not elected to sit around and do Landon’s bidding, but to serve their consituents.  They work for us - this is a democracy.  And we pay Landon’s salary, he need to listen to us as well.  They are not to be going off and doing things, I believe a majority of Westporters would disagree with.

We will pursue this issue to the end.  We are determined and we are angry at not being listened to.

Posted by Alan Clement on July 03, 2006 at 07:01 PM | #