The chair of the Board of Education said Monday night that he will step away from the elected body temporarily.
Dan Bennett read out the following prepared statement at the start of the Board’s regular meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School, his first public comments since being arrested last week for drunk-driving:
“I wanted to make a statement to this Board and the public. After the completion of this meeting, I will be absent from Board meetings and participation in Board activities for a few weeks as I deal with a personal situation that requires my and my family’s attention. With the help of my wife and family, we will manage this situation with humility and respect. I will make no further comment on this matter, which I hope that you understand. I ask for your consideration while this situation is managed and resolved. I remain committed to the work of this Board and the district. In my absence, I have confidence that each of the eight other talented and experienced Board members will be able to work with our excellent administration to push forward on all the important work that we do as a district. I thank all of you for your continued service and for everyone’s understanding as we move forward. Thank you.”
According to police, Bennett was charged with driving under the influence after officers responded to a report of a single-car crash on White Oak Shade at about 11:29 p.m. on Thursday, April 20. Police said that officers smelled alcohol and found signs of impairment in Bennett, and that the 46-year-old refused to undergo field sobriety tests.
It’s unclear whether the Board of Ed will take action regarding Bennett. The school board has scheduled a special meeting to be held 5 p.m. Wednesday at NCHS. Agenda items include “Discussion and Possible Action Concerning Alleged Misconduct of New Canaan Board of Education Chairman, Dan Bennett,” “Opportunity for Mr. Bennett to be heard by the Board concerning alleged misconduct on April 20, 2023 and/or April 24, 2023, and possible disciplinary action by the Board,” “Discussion by the Board concerning the alleged misconduct and Mr. Bennett’s response” and “Possible Board action.”
Three people took to the podium to address the Board during a public comments session toward the end of Monday’s meeting, each of them calling for Bennett to resign, as follows:
- Tom Butterworth: “I wanted to respond to Mr. Bennett’s comment earlier on about how he planned to deal with the controversy that’s been in the press. And I wanted to comment that if Mr. Bennett were my neighbor, I would embrace that strategy and support it with love and concern and passion, and take all the time you want to handle your personal affairs. But Mr. Bennett is the chairman of the Board of Education. And every day that the Board of Education stays silent on his role in light of this controversy represents a body blow to the New Canaan Public Schools. Now I could be wrong. Maybe Mr. Bennett is going to come up with some magical solution to take this out of the press and say it was all a mirage and never happened at all, no consequences on the schools. But in case that doesn’t happen, I think we need to ask some difficult questions that are not personal, but have to do with the status of Mr. Bennett as chairman of the Board of Education. That one day last week, I’m sure Dan would take back if he could. But on that day, as the chairman of the Board of Education, the questions arise: Did he make choices that made 4,000 students under his leadership more safe or less safe? Did he demonstrate belief in the rules of responsible conduct that are being taught in the schools, or has he invited cynicism about those rules? At a time when many hundreds of faculty and staff are burning the candle at both ends to solve profound educational challenges, has he made those solutions easier or more difficult to achieve? I trust that Dan will resign from the Board of Education and from his chairmanship for the good of our children and for the reputation of our schools and our town. When he does, I suggest we rally around him with compassion and support. Thank you.”
Rita Bettino: “I’m speaking tonight as a concerned mom of three, including my youngest child. He’s an NCHS student who will hopefully be getting his driver’s permit this year. I was genuinely sorry, Dan, to hear about the events that happened on Thursday night. Truly. And I’m not here to throw stones. Having said that, I fully expected there to be some degree of humility and accountability tonight, and I was disappointed. I was kind of dumbfounded at the seemingly cavalier response, especially given the seriousness of the situation. Saying you’ll step away for a few weeks, and then run this meeting tonight as if nothing had happened is unacceptable and falls far short of what parents and New Canaanites in general should expect from this Board. We have literally just kicked off Safe Driving Week at the high school. What does this lack of accountability say to those kids? As an elected school official, you set an example to these children. As elected town officials, we are expected to not only walk the talk, but frankly to be held to a higher standard. What message are we sending if the very people in charge do not take accountability and experience some consequence for their actions. As a leader in this town and for the parents and children you represent, I urge you to do the responsible thing and to resign.”
- Alicia Meyer: “I wanted to read aloud from the Board of Ed’s bylaws. These are found on your website. I’ll get to the important part. ‘The Board of Ed is committed to the highest legal and ethical standards essential in governing its school system.’ This is [bylaws number] 9005, it was adopted in 2016. On the way in here today, I walked by a crashed car that’s parked in front of the school as part of Safe Driving Week. In my job as head of ABC House, I send five scholars here to school every day. I go with them to Ram Council meetings. I take this job seriously and I’m concerned. As a member of the Commission for Health and Human Services here in town, we spend a lot of time working on addiction and DUI issues and we even spend time and money at the holiday season running PSAs in our local media about driving under the influence. I also was surprised and sad to see the news. I also, like was said before, I expected a resignation immediately. So to come here and see someone sitting in the chair seat truly as if nothing happened and saying they’re taking a few weeks off, is frankly insulting. What are we doing here, guys? What are we doing if we can’t set the basic example that there is accountability to our kids? Especially during Safe Driving Week. I would say it’s irony but it’s really just so frustrating. I wish you the best but I also request that you resign. Thank you.”
As of Tuesday, the Connecticut Judicial Branch database had no record of Bennett’s arrest. According to police, he is scheduled to appear May 9 in state Superior Court.
The Board of Ed’s next regular meetings are scheduled for May 8 and 22.