Dwyer tries to quell Brand vs. teachers controversy
Updated 9:15 pm, Friday, June 21, 2013
The Board of Education plans no more action on harassing comments that a group of Riverfield School teachers contends board member Sue Brand made, but board Chairman Philip Dwyer said he hopes incidents "of this nature do not happen again."
In a June 4 letter to Brand, Dwyer wrote that, on a personal note, "I hope you understand that conversations as described do not reflect well on any individual board member or the board as a whole."
That letter and another June 4 letter to the Riverfield teachers by Dwyer were released in response to a Freedom of Information request filed by the Fairfield Citizen.
The school board met behind closed doors May 21 to discuss Brand's conduct after a complaint was filed by the Riverfield teachers over an incident they said took place prior to a board meeting in March. The teachers had come to a board meeting to make a presentation on the elementary math curriculum and said that Brand confronted them and wanted to know "who wrote your speeches" and why they were there.
There was no public action taken against Brand by the board after the private session.
"The complaint was not a grievance and the Board of Education properly declined to take any action," Brand told the Fairfield Citizen. "The chair acted independently by writing the referenced letters. Certainly, no member of the Board of Education has the authority to take any action without a board vote and approval. There was no vote."
According to Dwyer's letter to Brand, she had asked, through her lawyer Joel Green, that he not speak to her on the matter.
"In addition, outside of the teachers' meeting, at which you continued to disagree with the complaints as voiced by the teachers in their letter, you have chosen not to talk to myself or the Board of Education on the matter," he wrote.
Dwyer attempted to mediate the situation, and facilitated a meeting between Brand and the teachers. The teachers say they did not receive a sincere apology from Brand during that session. Brand says that she did, indeed, apologize.
In Dwyer's June 4 letter to the teachers, however, the board chairman tries to strike a conciliatory note.
"We held an executive session on this matter with all members present and individual board members shared their thoughts," Dwyer's letter to the teachers states. "Discussion in executive session is confidential so I cannot share the results of such a meeting."
Dwyer told the teachers he has shared his concern with the entire school board that such an incident not be repeated.
"While debate on public education issues can be passionate, I would hope that all teachers know they are safe, secure and supported when professionally representing the Fairfield school system before the Board of Education," Dwyer wrote.
Brand said as a member of the school board, her primary responsibility, as an agent of the state, is to conduct herself in compliance with state law.
"At this point and going forward," she said, "our board should be focused on taking appropriate steps to ensure that the unauthorized change in text books never happens again."
The state Board of Education has scheduled a hearing next month on the use of an algebra text book that was not approved by the Fairfield school board, but was used in classrooms under what administrators described as a "pilot" program.
The issue touched off months of debate, and is the subject of an active complaint being investigated by state education officials.