Leaders of the New Rochelle Chapter of the NAACP appeared before the New Rochelle Board of Education last night for the second meeting in a row to express their outrage over the decision of Jefferson School Principal Cindy Slotkin to distribute a letter to parents of Jefferson students offering them the option to opt-out of a taped video presentation of President Obama’s recent “Back to School” speech. After nearly an hour of “debate and dialog” between members of the school board and the NAACP, school board President Sara Richmond stated that, speaking for the entire board, no one on the board was aware of opt-out letters being sent home.
Richmond and fellow board member Jeff Hastie both have children enrolled at Albert Leonard Middle School. Parents at ALMS also received an opt-out letter for the Obama speech that same week. It is hard to imagine how, given their claims to have known nothing about “opt-out” letters prior to the previous board meeting on November 4th, Richmond and Hastie would have forgotten about getting opt-out letters form ALMS. Further, the NAACP wrote to Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak at the end of September expressing their concerns. Either Organisciak failed to mention concerns about the opt-out letter within the African-American community or the board was informed well before the November 4th board meeting. All in all it is difficult to square claims made by the board members last night with information that has come to light since.
Long-time school board observers found the board members professions of ignorance about the opt-out letters “unconvincing”.
What quickly became a free-for-all with board members and members of the NAACP arguing vociferously over the decision of Jefferson School principal was sparked by a letter from NAAC New Rochelle Chapter President Ron Williams (reprinted below).
Dear Ms. Richmond
This letter concerns Superintendent Organisciak’s written response to the New Rochelle branch of the NAACP dated September 29th, 2009.
On September 23rd, 2009, Education Committee Chair Ms. Gloria Johnson wrote to Superintendent Organisciak with copies sent to each Board of Education member. Her subject was a letter sent by the principal of Jefferson School to parents concerning President Obama’s speech on education in early September. This opt-out letter sent a negative message to members of our branch and our community.
Mr. Organisciak responded on Tuesday September 29, 2009. When Mr. Organisciak’s letter was read at the branch’s general membership meeting in October his response to our concerns met with universal disappointment, to put it mildly. The branch finds the opt-out letter highly offensive. Rather than consider the negative effect this opt-out letter had on our parents children and the community at large. Mr. Organisciak asserted that the letter showed a sensitivity and awareness. It appears that the same letter we be used should the situation arise again.
It is clear from the Superintendent’s response that the District has failed to understand why the opt-out letter is so damaging. I propose that you and other members of the board meet with Ms. Johnson, branch members and me to discuss the impact this letter may have on our community. I also propose the City School District for New Rochelle formulate a policy on opt-out letters to obviate the possibility of similar damage in the future.
I look forward to your response.
Ronald H. Williams
Copies of the letter were handed to each board member by New Rochelle Public Library Board member Emery Schweig who then read the letter to the board before making her own remarks. Schweig compared Slotkin and the Board of Education members (unfavorably) to Communist China’s authoritarian regime:
“I saw that Obama got to address the children in China this week”, said Schweig. ” I think they’re pretty fortunate. I don’t think they got an opt-out letter.”
Schweig seemed unaware that Chinese citizens are not permitted to “opt-out” as a general policy, ranging from forced abortions, to forced labor and prison labor, to internet censorship. The same government shoots unarmed civilians in Tibet and runs them over with tanks and then hangs dead bodies from streetlights. Given the nature of the government in China it should come as no surprise that students were not offered the opportunity to “opt out” from the Obama speech. The fact is the exact opposite is the case: the Chinese government controls all media outlets and has largely downplayed Obama’s visit. The “town hall” referred to by Ms. Schweig was not broadcast on any state-run television channels. Other than that it is a great point.
UPDATE: ABC News is reporting
First the Chinese government refused to broadcast live on state-run television President Obama’s town hall meeting with university students in Shanghai. Now some US media are saying the government is blocking access to an interview President Obama did in Beijing with the relatively progressive newspaper Southern Weekly.
Mark McClean of the NAACP claimed (incorrectly) that two other Presidents had made a similar address to students without controversy and the only thing that was different this time is that that time “we have our first African-American president”. McClean said he was not -prepared willing to go so far as to accuse Cindy Slotkin of being a racist but the only logical explanation for sending out the letter was her desire to pander to partisan politics.
Mary Jane Reddington got into the mix, saying that while she did not know she believes that Slotkin’s rationale was that the speech was going to be political not educational. McClean (correctly) pointed out that at the time the letter was sent the speech had already been delivered so Ms. Slotkin knew the content of the speech before the school year even began.
“That rational”, said McClean, “is not available to this educator”
Dr. Woolbright of the NAACP called on the board to communicate to Slotkin that this sort of thing is not acceptable and to devise a policy to make sure that future opt-out letters are first reviewed and approved by the school board.
Amidst all of the cries for more and better “diversity training” and accusations of “insensitivity” and “shock” and even “double shock”. what went down last night at the school board meeting is what is described in today’s Wall Street Journal as ritualized expression of empathy. In a case involving a faculty member at NYU who wrote an article for Forbes magazine deemed insensitive to Mulsims, James Taranto wrote:
This is how “diversity” works in practice: Intellectual contention is drowned out in a sea of emotion, much of it phony. Members of designated victim groups respond to a serious argument with “pain” and “shock” and accusations of “hate,” and university administrators make a show of pretending to care.
The only person not bending over to apologize to the NAACP last night was Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak who offered no apologies for letters undoubtedly sent with his prior knowledge and approval. It is a startling turn of events indeed when Richard Organisciak is the only honest voice at the table — at least on this particular “issue”.
For those in the know, the manufactured outrage from the NAACP is seen as payback from the African-American community for this summer’s coup in which then BoE Veep Quay Watkins was denied her request to remain as Vice President after turning down the traditional elevation of VP to President due to personal reasons. Former School Board President Pearl Quarles became apoplectic upon discovering that Watkins was being voted out as an officer of the board. Quarles lambasted the board and accused Chrisanne Petrone and Sara Richmond “jumping turn” in taking the positions of Vice-President and President, respectively.
The entire sequence of events took place within a 90 day period. The coup against Watkins took place on July 7, the Back to School speech was delivered on September 8. That date is the day after Labor Day, also Superintendent’s Day and also the day before children returned to school for the 2009-10 school year. The opt-out letter was sent to New Rochelle parents later that same week. The NAACP sent their letter to Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak on September 23rd, claiming the opt-out letter sent a “highly offensive” and “negative” message to the African-American community. When Organisciak sent them what the NAACP has described as an “arrogant” and “condescending” response they showed up at the board meeting on November 4th and against last night.
While never explicitly stated it was clear that if Organisciak does not agree to their demands for a meeting, the NAACP will take steps to increase pressure on the district.