School Officials Draw Line Between School Curriculum and Local Activist Preacher


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LYME-OLD LYME — After parent complaints and comments by school Superintendent Ian Neviaser were the subject of news coverage on Wednesday, Board of Education Chair Diane Linderman sent an email to local elected school officials on Friday warning board members against speaking with the press.

“As per Board policy 1112.2, the Board Chair is the official spokesperson for the Board and the Superintendent is the official spokesperson for the district. If there is an issue that you feel needs to be addressed in the media, you need to contact me or Ian and an official statement/press release will be drafted if that is appropriate,” Linderman wrote.

Linderman’s comments appeared to be in response to reports of complaints and denials by Neviaser that the Lyme-Old Lyme schools were involved in an “educational initiative” with Rev. Steve Jungkeit of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme to “teach the history of racism and slavery in the area.” Jungkeit is well known in the area for his activism on a variety of progessive causes.

In a profile in The Day, Jungkeit spoke about the initiative, prompting a number of complaints from local parents.

In an article published in The Day in fall 2020, the Lyme-Old Lyme Partnership for Social Justice, of which Jungkeit is a member, also claimed that the group was “working with school administration and the Board of Education to recruit teachers of color and to create a diversity committee of students, staff and parents.”

Neviaser said that neither the administration nor the Board of Education had ever worked with the Jungkeit or the Lyme-Old Lyme Partnership for Social Justice’s Task Force on Education. Linderman told CT Examiner in a call on Friday afternoon that the Task Force on Education had no interaction with the Board of Education. 

Jungkeit later told CT Examiner that the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme was “simply one member of a community coalition” that was involved with the Witness Stones Project. Jungkeit said that the church had had discussions with the school, but only in this context. He said there was no separate “educational initiative,” as reported in The Day

Neviaser explained that the school district was working alongside Dennis Culliton, a former middle school U.S. history teacher in Guilford and one of the founders of the project, to implement a curriculum for 7th grade students.

Linderman told CT Examiner that the Witness Stones Project was “totally separate” from reported initiatives involving Jungkeit. 

The Witness Stones Project curriculum directs students to look at primary sources, including colonial and municipal records, census data, church records and partial histories, and to use these documents to craft a biographical sketch of a slave who lived in Old Lyme. The project has received the support of local school officials, and the town’s Historic District Commission approved placement of the stones, subject to owner consent, this winter. Director of Curriculum Michelle Dean presented the project to the board in January.

This story was updated to clarify the role of the Old Lyme HDC

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.