New Canaan Public Schools Alumni Call for More Diverse Faculty, Expanded Curriculum To Address Racial Injustice

Saying they represent more than 650 present and past students and parents, New Canaan Public Schools alumni last week called for the district to hire more people of color, expand curriculum to address systemic racism and inequity, and hold twice-yearly events to educate both students and faculty on racial justice. Addressing the Board of Education during the public comment period at the elected body’s June 15 meeting, the alumni also called for the public schools to interview at least one candidate of color for every faculty and administrative position available. 

Valentina Zamora, a rising senior at New Canaan High School, said those who signed a June 7 letter to the district—it now has more than 700 signatories—also are calling for the hiring of a new director of diversity and inclusion for the district “to oversee the development of diverse curriculum and programming” as well as a restorative justice counselor “who will be responsible for re-framing the settlement of conflicts and discipline within the New Canaan Public Schools community.”

“Looking back at the 2019-2020 school year, where 417 white teachers and 20 nonwhite teachers were employed, we hope to see 25% faculty of color employed in academic disciplines by 2025,” Valentina Zamora said during the meeting, held via videoconference. “Along with this, we recommend that New Canaan Public Schools reports and publishes demographics of all faculty hired each fiscal year to show progress toward this goal.”

The comments came on the heels of a peaceful protest in New Canaan that drew thousands of participants, calling for an end to police brutality and racism in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Local police and government officials joined in the protest here, and nationally Floyd’s death has galvanized advocates for change in law enforcement and beyond. Fatou Niang, who organized the New Canaan protest together with her sons, told Board members that in talking to them about what’s happening “the first thing that they told me was it was impossible to go through the public [school] system, and not come out racist.”

“And that shocked me, that kids going through the New Canaan system can think like that,” said Niang, who addressed the Board on the same topic as the alumni group though not as part of the same presentation.

District Tracks Public Schools Enrollment As Realtors Anticipate High Number of Move-Ins

Though enrollment for New Canaan Public Schools next academic year remains largely in line with projections, district officials say they’re in communication with local real estate professionals who are anticipating a high number of move-ins from New York City amid the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

What initially had been a discussion about high demand in the local rental market now appears to be true for prospective homebuyers, according to NCPS Director of Human Resources Darlene Pianka. “I think the general consensus is that the spring market is just starting to happen right now,” Pianka told members of the Board of Education during their regular meeting, held Monday night via videoconference. “So houses are coming onto the market in a delayed manner. Where we would have been starting the housing market in March, things slowed down for those three months and are just beginning to pick back up. Anything can happen and we are certainly watching it every day.”

The comments, made in response to a question from Board of Ed member Sheri West, came as Pianka reviewed the district’s own enrollment numbers, based largely on data verification with public school families, and compared those figures against projections from the Marlboro, Mass.-based New England School Development Council, known as NESDEC.

After One-Time Suspension, Board of Ed To Reinstate Public Comments Monday

After suspending the practice for one meeting, members of the Board of Education said last week that they’re hoping to find a secure way for the public to offer comment before the elected body during remote meetings in the future. Receiving people’s emails isn’t an adequate substitute for the live public comment period that’s part of regular meeting agendas, according to Board member Dionna Carlson. 

“I wouldn’t want to see this going to the emails that just come to the Board, because that’s not public,” Carlson said during the Board’s March 30 meeting, held via videoconference. 

“There is a lot going on right now and I do think we need to find a way for the public to be able to address us through the digital platform,” Carlson said. She added, “I think it is is important for us to see and hear the public and for the remainder of the public to see what is being addressed to the Board. So I would not want to see this go to emails and things like that. We just need to figure out how to work with [New Canaan Public Schools Technology Services] to keep these random things off the Zoom platform or go to a different platform that is more secure.”

She referred to inappropriate material that appeared during recent public meetings held by other municipal bodies in New Canaan on Zoom videoconferencing software—a practice known as “Zoom-bombing.”

Board member Bob Naughton suggested the district look into webinar platforms that require advance registration. 

Board Vice Chair Brendan Hayes said it was a good idea to “pre-clear those who are going to speak.”

“It is a bit difficult, I think, but my guess is we are not going to have a huge number of people during this period of time,” he said.