Statement: Incident at Last Night’s Somers Board of Education Meeting

7 months ago • 4 minute read

I am repulsed by the behavior of the Somers Central School District Board of Education, and its Superintendent Dr. Raymond Blanch, during the Public Comment portion at last night’s meeting.

(Video of the incident is available here.)

A mother of a non-verbal autistic child bravely spotlighted alleged abuse, bullying, threats, and physical restraint that her child suffered at the hands of a school district employee. She was rightly devastated by what she sees as inaction by school officials to protect her child by responding appropriately and timely to her complaint—or even to respond appropriately and timely to her complaint. Importantly, she did not publicly name the employee.

Rather than listen attentively with compassion to the mother’s statement, the Board of Education and the Superintendent decided to immediately take a recess and walk out on her testimony. Reportedly, the Board of Education even called the police. This behavior is shameful and does not reflect the values of our community or meet the standards for how we are to be treated by our elected officials and school administration.

The Somers Central School District is actively failing this disabled child. I call on Dr. Blanch to take immediate and appropriate action to investigate this matter fully. If the video evidence and official account on this incident does indeed validate the mother’s testimony, the employee in question must be removed from any duties that involve interacting with children until the appropriate disciplinary investigation can be completed.

In addition, the Board of Education must release a public apology to the family, who deserves to be validated and safeguarded; to ensure that her Public Comment is preserved in the official minutes; and to take immediate action to review and improve school policies regarding the treatment of disabled students.

It is essential that we remember that school board meetings should be about community involvement and public input to benefit the collective education of our children. These meetings cannot be a stage to play out divisive national politics at the local level. We need to move beyond politics and focus on our shared goal of providing the best education for our children. We all need to take a step back and realize that the temperatures are way too high for our School Board meetings to be productive.

In the early weeks of my campaign, the tenor of our School Board meetings has become a constant refrain from the people I meet. Collectively, we are frustrated and hesitant to speak. We are afraid that our children will be targeted as retribution, or that we will be confronted in the grocery store just for participating. We are treating each other as enemies with political agendas rather than neighbors seeking a common cause.

Parents need to acknowledge that our elected School Board officials are volunteering for an often thankless job and deserve our appreciation. However, our School Board officials need to recognize that they are our representatives to the school administration. Listening to us—our concerns, our needs, our children’s experiences—is a vital part of the School Board’s job description. These meetings are an opportunity for the Board to facilitate dialogue between parents and the administration, and our public comments are supposed to inform the School Board’s decisions. It seems that too often, our School Boards are ignoring this responsibility. Last night’s walk-out is the most visceral example of how we are being failed.

Finally, our elected officials need to recognize that their presence at School Board meetings is expected. Regardless of the level of government, the most pressing issues for your constituency are discussed and decided at School Board meetings. It is essential that we work together to create a safe, respectful, and productive environment where all voices can be heard, and all concerns can be addressed.