“She should not be sitting in any seat involving our children in the community in which she degraded,” shouted a protester Thursday morning.
Emotions were on display and frustration boiling over after the New Haven Board of Education voted Monday evening to demote a principal who used a racial slur in a “hypothetical situation” following a critical race theories workshop, according to Superintendent Ilene Tracey.
“She is privileged enough to demean and defame us, for however long, be in a space, be called out, be investigated, us not even know what the investigation is, and y’all decide to keep her because she’s a ‘good person,’” said orisha ala ochumare of Black Lives Matter New Haven. “I want you to make better decisions.”
The group asked Mayor Justin Elicker to meet outside the Board of Education Headquarters Thursday do to discuss his role and his vote as a member of the board. They presented a list of demands for the city, and wanted to know why he voted in favor of the demotion.
“I voted the way I did because we have a superintendent that spoke with the union, did the investigation, spoke with the legal counsel and held her accountable,” Elicker said.
During a four-hour Zoom meeting Monday night, Elicker, Edward Joyner, Matt Wilcox and President Yesenia Rivera voted in favor of the “blue list.” The list is created by Tracey and contains recommended personnel changes districtwide. Included on the list was the principal whose recommendation by Tracey was a demotion and a reassignment.
Darnell Goldson, Larry Conaway and Dr. Tamiko Jackson-McArthur voted no to the full list of personnel changes, including the demotion of the principal.
“We wanted that taken out to give people a chance to vote for everybody else,” Jackson-McArthur said.
But the motion to vote separately on the principal failed and the board was left to vote on full list. Jackson-McArthur says she was briefed on the investigation into the incident during Monday's meeting in an hour-long executive session, but she wasn’t given a full report to read before the vote.
She said she would have voted in favor of the changes if there was more clarity on how the principal is being held accountable.
“This has been very traumatic for everyone involved and I have yet to see anything that is going toward healing,” said Jackson-McArthur who’s chair of the governance committee. “I demand restoration. I demand restoration for the city, for our students, for our employees, even for the person that’s at the top of this. We all need healing.”
In a statement to NBC Connecticut, Tracey says she finds the term offensive and launched an investigation into the incident when she was made aware of it.
“After reviewing the investigative report and considering the context in which the language was used, I am confident that we were right to hold the principal accountable for her actions.”
The statement says she consulted with the city attorney and the principal’s union before she recommended a demotion and reassignment.
“She will undergo sensitivity training and continued critical race theories training to learn about the impact of her words and to prevent such an incident from happening again. She has also been asked to work to repair the harm to the individuals in the school with whom she interacted for the words she used.”
The board was only able to vote on Tracey’s recommendations. It’s unclear if termination was an option for Tracey to put before the board. It’s also unclear what would have happened if the board voted no to the “blue list” and all of the personnel moves, including removing the principal.
With the vote passing, Mayor Elicker says she will be reassigned to the New Haven Public School's central office.
“I think it’s important to make a strong statement about the very, very inappropriate language,” Elicker said.
Jackson-McArthur says part of the restoration process should be a public apology by the principal. Elicker agrees.
“I think it’s appropriate for her to apologize. I do. I can’t force her to do it but I think it’s appropriate for her to apologize.”
Superintendent Ilene Tracey's full statement is below:
"Monday, I presented to the Board of Education a personnel report. It included my recommendation to change the status of a principal related to an incident that occurred after a critical race theories workshop. It was reported that an insensitive term—the “ N” word was used. Upon investigation, it was used in a hypothetical situation. I, like so many in our community, find the term, whether used directly or not, to be grossly offensive. Upon learning of the incident, our Human Resources Department initiated an investigation. After reviewing the investigative report and considering the context in which the language was used, I am confident that we were right to hold the principal accountable for her actions. After consulting our attorney and meeting with the union, I determined the actions to be as follows:
The principal was demoted, which will result in reduced compensation. Contrary to reports, she has not been given an assignment as of yet. She will undergo sensitivity training and continued critical race theories training to learn about the impact of her words and to prevent such an incident from happening again. She has also been asked to work to repair the harm to the individuals in the school with whom she interacted for the words she used. As a district, we have been engaged in discussions on critical race theories and need to utilize this along with restorative practices to repair any harm that was done. In addition, the report will be released publicly.
I’d like to thank the Board of Education for their decision to support accountability in this matter. To not act, to not show that this behavior isn’t in line with our values as a district, would have been a mistake.”