‘How we will progress if we don’t grapple with the hard stuff?’

To the Editor:

As a lifelong resident of this community, I sit with a heavy heart this morning as I write my thoughts. After watching the board of education meeting from last evening (September 20, 2021) I feel an overwhelming sadness for our students, our families, our teachers/staff, our administration, and our board of education members.

There was a statement made during the meeting suggesting that the divisiveness we are seeing in our nation has now impacted our beloved little town. I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment.

I had hoped we could somehow stay protected from this, but now it appears this may have been inevitable. For many years I highlighted to friends and family in other communities how special Monroe was. How cohesive the community members presented. How supportive we all were of each other. The tide has slowly shifted as our world has become more and more divided.

I have spent more than two decades of my life as an educator and school administrator in the state of Connecticut. With that experience, I feel confident in my understanding of the role of boards of education in public education. My experience includes knowledge of the rules of the meetings as laid out by FOIA and Robert’s Rules, policy writing and revision, the role of the superintendent and school administration, and the conduct necessary by all parties involved.

Over the last several weeks, it appears to have shifted from professional meetings into discussions that are emotionally driven. While I understand many of these topics can be emotionally charged, it is my feeling the meeting needs to stay professional, and at all times focused on the needs of students.

Based on our policy around public participation and input, in addition to state statute, our board of education has the authority to control the meeting so it does not devolve into emotional rhetoric. Our own adopted bylaws state “Provisions for permitting any individual group to address the Board concerning any subject that lies within its jurisdiction shall be as follows:

“… 2.  No boisterous conduct shall be permitted at any Board of Education meeting. Persistence in boisterous conduct shall be grounds for summary termination, by the Chairperson, of that person’s privilege of address. If necessary, the Chairperson may clear the room so that the Board may continue the meeting…..”

This trend is a path we see on television. Professional board of education meetings across our nation have turned into appalling situations. I fear we are headed down that very dangerous road if we don’t stop and think. Our children are watching and waiting to see what we do.

While sensitive topics can be divisive, that does not mean we should completely avoid them. While our nation experiences civil unrest around many current issues, that does not mean we, in Monroe, should avoid all the things that make our citizens uncomfortable. How we will progress if we don’t grapple with the hard stuff?

While listening to the input from both “sides” of this issue, I kept thinking that we aren’t as far away from each other as everyone may think. We may be hearing each other, but we are not truly listening.

I believe every single board of education member is sitting at that table meeting after meeting with the best of intentions for ALL of our children. In fact, I know they are.

Right now, however, we have a subset of children in crisis. A group of students who are clearly telling us they need more. They and their parents are begging for our community to see them, hear them, support them. Why aren’t we listening? Is it fear? Is it not being able to understand their needs?

While I understand there is a policy in place supporting many of our students within protected classes, right now we have an obligation to listen to the needs of our LGBTQIA+ students. I heard members of our community and members of our board all acknowledge the risk factors of this cohort both in Monroe, Connecticut, as well as across the country.

The data is clear. Our students are in crisis and we need to be there for them. While we may not agree on what needs to be done, the discussion must happen. I understand the belief that there is language in the discrimination policy that broadly protects ALL.

Right now we aren’t talking about all. We are talking about a subset whose voices are saying they need us. Given the fact that everyone agrees this group of students needs our support, can’t we find a middle ground? Why aren’t we willing to have the conversation about what these students and families need from us?

If there is a feeling that language already exists within state statute and current BOE policy, then I ask you what does adding an additional policy hurt?

While looking at our current policies many are dated as far back as 2004. Unfortunately, I do not see where the current student policies (5145 series in particular – dated 2006) protect this specific cohort of students. They directly state they protect students with disabilities and students from any racial discrimination.

I’m unclear as to how these policies directly protect the LGBTQ+ community. The mere fact that this has not been updated since 2006 gives concern that it does not meet the current state statutes. This series is also clearly not updated to the current CABE recommendations.

Perhaps it is a good opportunity for Monroe Public Schools to request a policy audit through CABE. This may address several of the issues at hand and be sure we are current in our practice.

It is my opinion we, in Monroe, are lacking in policy to support and protect these students. Unfortunately, this did not get addressed at the time the state statutes were implemented and when CABE initially recommended this policy be added. The timing of this discussion is several years behind, but unfortunately now happening at a time of such inability to meet in the middle.

Unfortunately, this problem goes beyond our town border, but it is not too late for us to make necessary changes. I am asking the Monroe Board of Education to open their minds, meet in the middle and listen to our children. Think about what you would want if it was your baby asking for community support.

Chrissy Fensore Martinez

Editor’s Note: Chrissy Fensore Martinez is a Democrat running for the Board of Education.

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