GUILFORD — Republicans voted Thursday evening to place five candidates on the ballot for Board of Education who were endorsed by the organization Truth in Education, a local group that has focused its opposition on Critical Race Theory.
Several candidates endorsed by the group said they felt there was a lack of transparency from the current board and that their concerns were not being heard.
The five candidates were chosen out of eight nominees and beat out the three incumbent members on the Board of Education who were up for re-election: Joseph Golino, Ted Sands and Amy Sullivan.
Truth in Education, a self-described grassroots movement founded by a group of Guilford parents and community members, proposed the candidates Tim Chamberlain, Danielle Scarpellino, Nick Cusano, Alexandra Passarelli and Bill Maisano. The group organized a talk last month at the Guilford Town Hall.
A total of 183 registered Republicans showed up to vote at the Guilford Community Center. Voters were allowed to mark a total of five candidates. Maisano led with 120 votes, followed by Cusano with 119, Chamberlain with 118, Passarelli with 116 and Scarpellino with 112.
Golino received 71 votes, Sands 48 and Sullivan 47.
Before the voting, the committee David Holman, an active member of Truth in Education, made a motion to amend the rules to allow the candidates to make their own three-minute speeches rather than the customary practice of having the nominating individual speak. The amendment was overwhelmingly accepted.
Five of the nine current members of the Board will be up for re-election in the fall, including Democrats Moira Rader and Mary Best and the three incumbent Republicans.
Since rules stipulate that a Board of Education can only have a slight majority, the largest number of Republicans who could be elected this term is four — three that would replace or retain the incumbents and one who, if elected, would overturn the democratic majority on the board.
“We’re doing great work”
CT Examiner spoke to seven of the eight candidates about their reasons for running and their plans for what to do after the election. The eighth, Amy Sullivan, was not present for the vote.
The incumbents brought up a variety of issues affecting the district, including facilities projects, labor contracts and the budget.
Sands said that one of the major issues the board needed to address in the future would be “right-sizing” the district in order to match the declining school-age population in the town. Another, he said, was upgrading the air conditioning and HVAC systems at the schools. He said there had been some challenges with the projects because of supply chain delays.
Golino, who was appointed to the board in January, said his experience negotiating with unionized employees at Metro-North Railroad allowed him to help with labor negotiations within the school district.
He also said he was impressed by the way the board had worked together during COVID, pulling together safety protocols within weeks and remaining under budget.
“We’re doing great work. My colleagues are doing great work,” he said.
Sands and Golino both said that Truth in Education focused on only one issue, Critical Race Theory, and that Critical Race Theory was not being taught in Guilford Public Schools.
“We on the board looked very carefully at what was going on, at the curriculum, at the reading lists, at the approved texts, to see if this was in fact the case, and we found that it was not,” Sands said. “If we thought it was, we would certainly put a stop to it.”
Sands said that the Board did want to bring more diversity into the curriculum “in a thoughtful way.” He also said that the current administration had improved test scores for Guilford students.
“Free from all indoctrination”
Many of the candidates endorsed by Truth in Education said they felt there was a lack of transparency with the current Board of Education and said they felt that some parent voices were not being heard.
Scarpellino last year started a petition calling on the Board of Education to “disavow” Critical Race Theory, which she called “misguided racial hatred.”
“When our slate gets elected to the Board of Education in November, parents and taxpayers will not have to fight for a seat at our table. On the contrary, we will be fighting for a seat at your table because the schools belong to the public,” Scarpellino said in an e-mailed statement. “You will not be treated as “pushback,” you will not have to resort to Freedom of Information Act requests to get answers, and you will never receive the response, “will neither confirm nor deny.”
Scarpellino said in her nominating speech that she felt the current Board of Education had shown an “inability to oversee our superintendent Paul Freeman” and said that she would “ensure that [the children’s] education is free from all indoctrination.”
Nick Cusano said he wanted parents to have equal access to and opportunity to be heard by the board, no matter their opinion.
“I think a lot of the communication between the parents and the school system is broken,” he said.
“Parents should be informed on what their children are doing in class.”
Tim Chamberlain said he wanted to support conservative voices.
“I want to make sure viewpoints other than those significantly left of center are allowed to be heard in our schools,” said Chamberlain. He added that he was opposed to the district’s efforts to actively hire more teachers of color, saying that the criteria should be based on merits.
The district’s efforts are part of a statewide program to increase the number of teachers of color across the state.
During a meeting of the Republican Town Committee just before the caucus, Kristen Peck, the only Republican board member not up for re-election, urged people to come to the board with their concerns.
“We’ve been hearing a lot that people are disenchanted with the job we’ve been doing, but without giving any reason,” she said, adding that the board was trying to let people have their voices heard.
Peck said the board was planning a public meeting in August to discuss the equity and social justice initiative. She also said that the district had not changed any of its curricula.
“We should be celebrating differences”
Truth-in-Education-endorsed candidates also objected to the content of some lessons their children were being taught.
Bill Maisano said he wanted to “bring some unity” to the town. He also said he was against the school “mandating” classes that didn’t align with his religious or philosophical beliefs.
“Everybody’s against racism, there’s no argument,” he said. “I feel that there needs to be some boundaries. There are some things that schools are very good at teaching, and there are some things that should be left to parents.”
Cusano said he was concerned about some of the assignments his two sons have brought home, and said one of his sons had “been asked to form an opinion around something clearly designed around making him feel like there’s something wrong with him because of his skin color.”
Alexandra Passarelli, who has taught in New Haven schools since 1999, said she believed the focus in education should remain on foundational subjects like math and reading.
Passarelli, who comes from a multicultural family, said she was concerned about the lasting effects of the messages that children hear, and said she believed politics did not belong in the classroom.
“The negative messages that we put in them now will carry through,” she said. She added that while she believed in recognizing a diversity of heritages, she also thought that “we should not see color.”
“We should be celebrating differences, we should be pushing emotionally positive curriculums that are multicultural, interdisciplinary, focused on the good parts of schools,” added Passarelli.