A man who spoke during the public comment section of West Hartford’s Board of Education meeting Tuesday night was asked to leave the meeting after refusing to wear a mask and using profanity. [Updated, Sept. 22]
By Ronni Newton
The West Hartford Board of Education meeting Tuesday night was disrupted before it even really got underway by a member of the public who spoke out against the mask mandate during the public comment section, and refused to wear a mask despite being asked.
The man, a Hartford resident who said he graduated from West Hartford Public Schools in 1994, expressed praise for the Board of Education for being safe and welcoming, but “that great school system has now changed,” he said.
“Forcing our students to wear masks is abusive, unhealthy, hinders normal learning and development, and has been proven scientifically not to protect our children from the spread of the ‘China virus,’ COVID-19,” he said.
The speaker was asked several times by Board Chair Deb Polun to keep his mask on, covering both his mouth and nose, but continued speaking without complying, adding that Superintendent Tom Moore “literally said he wants to indoctrinate our children with critical race theory ideals.”
Polun continued to ask him to please pull his mask up, and he refused and insisted he be allowed to speak, stating that he “can’t breathe and talk when the mask is over my face.” She offered him the opportunity to email his comments rather than appear in person if he would not comply with the mask mandate.
He accused Polun, who never raised her voice, of being impolite and not respecting him. When she suggested he go home and send an email, he replied, “No, you go home.”
He did pull his mask up, and continued to speak, calling Moore an “evil man,” and said the town has decided to “teach our children to hate our country and to indoctrinate our children by hating their race if they’re white.” He used a profanity as he called for the removal of the Board’s equity in education policy, pointing at and calling Moore a racist, and calling for his resignation.
The man returned to the audience, removing his mask and continuing to speak and point at Moore. He left after the Board briefly recessed into executive session to discuss a “safety matter.”
Masks or other face coverings are required in all indoor public spaces in West Hartford. Town Manager Matt Hart issued the mandate via executive order on Aug. 20. Prior to that masks were required in municipal buildings as of Aug. 4, and were strongly encouraged in other indoor public spaces.
The wearing of masks in schools is not just a West Hartford Public Schools rule but rather mandated on a statewide basis by Gov. Ned Lamont. The governor made a quick departure from a meeting with Cheshire school officials in late August after it was disrupted by individuals protesting the mask mandate.
Legislators are expected to meet in special session next week to consider the extension of the governor’s executive orders, including the school mask mandate.
Several other members of the public also requested the removal of the mask mandate for students, but all wore masks while addressing the Board.
Polun made a statement that all who are in Town Hall need to wear a mask, and specifically directed her comments to a woman, seated in the back of the room, who was not wearing a mask. When the woman ignored the request, she was asked to leave, and when she did not move, she was told that security had been summoned.
The woman did leave the room after a brief conversation with Assistant Superintendent Andy Morrow.
West Hartford Police officers had been at the previous Board of Education meeting, and although Board members thought they were going to be at this meeting as well, officers did not arrive until after the disruption.
Polun said that security will be requested for future meetings and West Hartford Police Chief Vernon Riddick told We-Ha.com on Wednesday that officers will be in attendance at future Board of Education meetings.
Polun read a statement to the community before adjourning: “There are rules that we follow as a society to keep our community safe – for example stopping at red lights, not smoking in restaurants, and right now, wearing masks indoors. I encourage public participation in our democracy and it needs to be done in a way that is civil and respectful in order for us as policymakers to focus on your message.”
On Wednesday, Moore said he was not surprised by the disruption at the Board of Education meeting but will not allow it to detract from the mission of West Hartford Public Schools.
“So many seem addicted to hate and division,” Moore told We-Ha.com. A lot of people have reached out to me to say how shocked they are that this happened in West Hartford. Sadly, based on emails, anonymous letters and phone calls I have received over the past 18 months, I cannot say that I am surprised. I have spent more than half of my life as a teacher, coach, and administrator in West Hartford, and while these events are unfortunate, they won’t stop us from doing what is right for our kids.”
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