Intimidation Tactic Appalls Residents

Monday’s Board of Education meeting was heated. The Staples High School library’s banned books display was one reason. Another was the board’s vote against adding that issue to their already long agenda.

But residents were allowed to speak during the public session, before the first agenda item. Nine did.

Midway through the discussion, a man in a beige coat moved quickly toward a teenage girl. Lilly Weisz was taking photos for Inklings, the school newspaper.

He stood menacingly over her. “He was really, really intimidating,” one observer said.

Two Westport Public Schools staff members — waiting for a later agenda item — got up, to stand nearby.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice saw what was happening. He left his seat, and stood next to the student for several minutes. “He wanted to make sure she was safe,” a meeting attendee said.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice stands between an Inklings reporter and a man who had moved intimidatingly toward her. (Contributed photo)

One person at the meeting was so worried, he called 911.

Eventually, the man left.

Lilly says, “As a journalist, we’re trained to expect anything from anyone. There was a lot of tension at the meeting, and there are a feelings about journalists all around the nation.”

She says the man approached her, and asked why she was taking pictures. She explained she was with the school paper. “I’m here to gather as much information as I can, and write an unbiased article.”

She felt “aggression toward me.” However, Lilly says, after other people talked to him, he apologized.

“I don’t think he represents his entire side,” she notes. “People from both sides thanked me afterward for reporting on the issue. Overall, I felt supported by the community. I think people wanted me to succeed.”

Lilly’s story will appear in the next print edition of Inklings.


The paper’s co-advisor Mary Elizabeth Fulco says, “I am extremely proud of my Inklings reporter, Lilly Weisz, for her demonstrated maturity, professionalism and courage.”

Several residents contacted “06880” yesterday, saying they had never seen behavior like that. One called it “appalling, and abhorrent.”

We all know that over the past few years, social norms, civility and public discourse have deteriorated.

Up to now, behavior like that has happened in other places.

On Monday night, it was in full display at an open town meeting.

Right here in our town.

44 responses to “Intimidation Tactic Appalls Residents

  1. Robert Harrington

    Journalists – students or otherwise should be free to report on events and take pictures. They are there to report the news and do their job. This should never be questioned and especially not in a public meeting. I’m glad the man apologized but this should not have happened in the first place.

  2. Why was this guy’s name not gotten for this piece, Dan….?

    • Because I do not know it.

      • Several readers have sent photos that identify the man in question as Nick Sarelli. He is the husband of Alma Sarelli, who spoke at the Board of Education meeting in opposition to the book display.

        • John D McCarthy

          Wow, what a coincidence. There is an Alma Sarelli running for State Representative as a Republican this November. What are the odds of that?

  3. Peter Evanson

    Based on what happened, everybody in attendance and everybody in town deserves to know WHO this guy is.
    When 911 was called, did the Police show up and talk to him?
    This occurrence needs to be addressed.
    Also, does a school security officer attend these meetings?
    If not, maybe it’s time.

  4. charles taylor

    Good prevailed this time……! A grown man Trying to intimidate a young woman is the height of cowardice!

  5. Civility and respect for one another are what protect us from chaos. One very effective way to encourage them is to shine a light on those who don’t adhere to the norms we hold dear. Well done Dan.

    Freedom of the press, along with all the other critical freedoms are what’s at stake when this behavior goes unchecked. Let’s stand with those who demand and support their importance. As a lifetime Westporter, I think we’re currently raising a community of Lilies and I couldn’t be prouder.

  6. Kristin Schneeman

    Thanks to Mr. Scarice for acting on an instinct to protect one of his students, one of OUR children. This kind of threatening behavior has absolutely no place in our town.

  7. I don’t know who he was but he was sitting with Alma Sarelli before he went towards Lilly and he left with her group. Lilly put her arms and hands straight out in front of her to create a barrier and she was shaking her head no, as if to say back off, get away. It was frightening enough for several PTA Co-Presidents to move in next to Lilly as well. It was intimidating, especially because he didn’t leave her and go back to his seat next to Alma. At one point the chairperson had to stop the meeting to make sure everything was ok.

  8. If you can bear to sit through the video of the meeting—and 15 minutes of rambling, stumbling public comment from the right-wing Podium Pirates—you’ll see they guy in question whispering to Alma Sarelli, the Republican candidate for state rep.

  9. Robert M Gerrity

    O dear former neighbors! You ain’t seen nothing yet.

    INTIMIDATION is the DEFAULT ACTION of, yes, “these people.” Both aggrieved and entitled, the men, especially the men, believe themselves “allowed” to act with impunity. If called out on it, they barely register why it was civically “wrong.” Psychologically and historically, that was NO accident a SMALLER PERSON was targeted in that way.

    The next time, when two or more such persons show up, there will be NO apology. That individual’s behavior that Dan is reporting IS the first brick in How A Righteous Mob Is Created. A Gathering is what people do on the Cohen Bridge. A Mob is what people were at The Capitol on J6. Gatherings channel energy democratically which leads to voting, being on school boards, etc. Mobs channel energies fascistically which leads to violence, injuries, deaths and the failure of the Rule of Law. (Hello, all you incipient blackshirt/brownshirt wannabes among my fellow citizens!)

    Where did I first learn this? In a REQUIRED Civics class as an 8th grader at Bedford Junior High. Thank you, Westport.

    The next school board meeting ought to begin with a strong reminder to all in attendance just what Rules of Civics are in place and will be adhered to with, yes and alas, an Officer of The Law standing by. Think of it as Continuing Civic Education for us all.

    Thanks to Dan for reporting on, and the tipster who alerted him to, the REAL news from the board’s session. Note that it wasn’t in the “straight” reporting story that was linked to in a previous posting on this topic. Whether it was the reporter or her editor, they both failed in basic news reporting — they truly “buried the lede.”

    That lede being, to paraphrase Sinclair Lewis, It CAN Happen Here.

    O Westport! You ain’t seen nothing yet.

  10. Diana Pils Marino Staples '79

    Nobody is talking about the issue. No, you shouldn’t scare & harass a teenage anything but journalists for 25 years haven’t been fair and balanced. Also, the scary man apologized. Why are you villagers wanting to know his name so you can go to his house or destroy his life? Lily needs to get used to investigative journalism out there in the world but no one should be hurt. So, don’t defund the police? I agree. Put an enforcement person at the meetings since civil discourse can’t be done today.

    • I do think that it is relevant to know that the husband of a candidate for state rep seemed to be attempting to intimidate a student journalist at a BOE meeting.

      Similarly, I think it is good to know if a Supreme Court justice is married to election denial activist.

  11. PEN America has a great study on the dramatic and growing attempt to censor books in schools.

    While book banning in school libraries has been an issue for decades, things have escalated in the last few years as a minority of christian nationalists want to enforce their morality on everyone, and MAGA-followers inspired by thuggish and disrespectful tactics, are attempting to hijack the agenda from people who simple want their children to get a quality education.

    The PEN study is fascinating when you see the tactics of these people. For instance, obscenity has always been an exemption from First Amendment protections. These people who would censor (and they ironically portray themselves as being about Freedom and Liberty) will try to change the definition of “obscenity” to include anything they don’t like – even though there is a fairly specific legal definition of obscenity.

    I would urge everyone concerned about this to read the study, because it certainly looks as if the self-appointed school library censors have studied the game plan, even in Westport, Connecticut.

    (I am curious about the overlap between the this group, the “anti-CRT” crowd, and the folks raising a ruckus about “Irreversible Damage,” as I suspect it is pretty much the same group. Manufacturing outrage.)

    • Robert Harrington

      I would argue there is high overlap Chris – but from my own inbox and conversations it seems to be a far broader group that is frustrated in this the issue. With respect to the specific incident on this post – I have been very clear that I think Mr. Sareli’s actions were wrong.

      I also think its very important to highlight this point – as many democrats are making multiple points here: in the broader BOE meeting before this unacceptable incident – All four Democrat BOE members voted twice against having this important issue on the BOE agenda. If we are so focused on the future of democracy its strange that elected representatives don’t want to discuss this issue, or even just the library policy – at a public meeting in front of voters and the community. Instead we had an hour long session behind closed doors.

      • Thank you, Robert.

        Correct me if I am misreading, but four members only voted against adding it to the agenda at the last minute, no?

        Might it be more appropriate to propose the topic for a future agenda, when all members of the community can be prepared to offer input on the matter?

        I would also encourage you to read the link I provided above to PEN’s study of the dramatically increasing numbers of attempts to ban books in public schools as well as the tactics that they are using.

        • Katerina Kireyeva

          The issue was raised before school administrators and BOE 9 days prior to BOE meeting. Yet, democrat members of BOE continuously refused to put this item on the agenda and tried to shush the parents demanding that we fill specific forms challenging the materials. Lee Goldberg specifically forced parents into completing such forms, Then she used this forms as an excuse not to put this item on the agenda and not to give this matter a broader light on Monday.
          As to the books, you may want your children to read paedophiliac fantasies such as Law Boy or to see pornographic drawings while they are at school while most of parents whose children attend public schools want their children to study sciences and not to be exposed to sexually explicit materials which also advise children to join adult sex apps.

        • Robert Harrington

          Chris – it was proposed last Weds to add it to the agenda which is announced 48 hours prior to the meeting. This would have been published in the normal way. 3 members requested it to be on the agenda, 4 members did not want it on the agenda including the Chair. We then made it clear that we would also propose to make the same motion to to have it agenda to the agenda at the beginning of the inversion BOE meeting. That was also voted down. It’s one thing not to have it on the agenda. I thought it was a totally different matter to then proceed to have an Executive Session away from the public that went beyond just hearing from our attorney on board policy. I don’t think that broader conversation should have been in private.

          We will of course propose it for a future meeting too.

          I will take a look at the link you provided – thank you!

  12. Richard Johnson

    If this is indeed the spouse of someone currently running for elected office in Westport, that’s deserving of its own post. One in which he and the candidate are given the opportunity to explain his conduct, of course.

  13. Katerina Kireyeva

    So, doing NOTHING other that being tall and standing is “intimidating” nowadays? What kind of nonsense is that?! Is this profiling of all tall people?

    The issue what really matters here is why the most offensive pictures and descriptions including a picture of a blow job were not published by the author. Radicals have to see what they have pushed on our children in all its glory.
    Bottom line, they can watch pornography with their children all they want. In private. However, they should not be pushing their perversions down the throats of OUR children.

  14. Henry Christian

    Oh no!! Please summon Garland and the FBI ! A tall person is standing…STANDING!!! next to someone. Why, that criminal!! This is THE definition of domestic terrorism

    • Robert M Gerrity

      I take it you did NOT read several of the items above, including my presentation on what THAT action really was – Explicit Intimidation. Yes, it was a TALL PERSON (male) overbearing on a SMALLER PERSON (female), violating her personal space physically and intellectually by not-nicely asking why she was doing what she was doing — doing something she had EVERY RIGHT to do in an Open Forum: take notes, take pictures, etc. Now it could have been a SMALL PERSON (male) doing the same to a TALL PERSON (female), but the INTENT of the behavior would be the same – INTIMIDATION. In either case, it is UNCIVIL action in a CIVIL space. So, yeah, it is the definition of [the first step towards] domestic terrorism. Thanks for pointing that out.

      Now, please excuse me, I have to continue to write postcards to voters here in Oregon and later make get-out-the-vote calls. There’s a democractic republic to save. I don’t want to let Ben Franklin down.

  15. This is a Borat prank right? “Borat comes to the Board of Ed to Ban pro-Bruno Books” (in which Borat uses a former Soviet satellite country’s thuggish tactics to promote bigotry?) 😏 A sequel in the making?
    “Borat Brings Balkan Cultural Learnings to America for Make Benefit Glorious anti-Bruno Nation.”

  16. We grew up in a totalitarian communist country where somebody snapping many pictures of you when you were addressing government officials about a controversial issue usually meant you were being targeted by the secret police. I saw no ID badge or other indication that identified the reporter as “Press” or a representative of the school newspaper. When I learned who she was, I immediately apologized for my questions. I commend her participation in the press, and I support full and fair reporting of all sides of an issue.

    • Nick: Just to make sure we understand what you are saying above: in your [judgment?], you thought perhaps this teenage girl in a sweater at Staples H.S. in the above photo was potentially “the secret police” come to monitor a Westport BOE meeting and that is why you thought it appropriate to engage in the conduct described above in the article as calculated to physically intimidate her?

    • That is one ironic defense of bad behavior.

      We aren’t living in a totalitarian communist country – and nobody wants it to be one.

      Is totalitarianism okay, if represents your own values, like through the attempts of Trump supporters on January 6 to prevent the transition of power to the actual winner of the election?

      That said, thank you for apologizing to the schoolgirl who you tried to intimidate. Thank you for coming here to attempt to offer up an explanation of your behavior.

    • Lauren MacNeill

      Nick, I’m curious about your heritage. When Alma announced her candidacy for Representative I googled to see what the business was that you run together. In some public court cases it references that you go by the name of Avi Lieberman and I’m curious if that is your given name as it seems quite different from Nick Sarelli. Thanks for clarifying.

    • Bahaha! What a load of BS. Politics aside….you’re not blind sir. You’re at a High School BOE meeting with no ‘ID’ of your own, intimidating a girl who is an obvious teenager, not the Secret Police. If you’re using your past as any indication of your ‘worldliness’….then there’s no excuse whatsoever for your behavior. Get a clue buddy.

    • David J Loffredo

      According to your wife’s political pages you’ve been in the country for at least 12 years.

      And you have two daughters?

      Wow, shame on you, you’re lucky her Dad wasn’t there.

  17. Katerina Kireyeva

    It is clear that radicals are blowing this out of a proportion in order to shift attention from a real issue in Westport schools which is pornographic materials on a display at Westport schools. Materials which openly depict sexual scenes, promote paedophilia and even advise children to join adult sex apps where adults find partners for sex.
    I wonder about the intentions of those supporting such a display. And why would we, parents, allow these older men to groom our children?
    Perhaps these supporters of paedophilic materials at public schools should be investigated by the authorities to reveal their true motives.

    • Katerina – if you think the law is being broken I suggest you call the police. If I thought that “paedophilic materials” were in the schools, I’d immediately call 911 instead of posting in comment sections on the Internet.

      More likely, you are part of the small group of Westport residents (if you even live in Westport) who are trying to inflict a broad range of christian nationalist beliefs (anti-LGBTQ, false claims that CRT is being taught in school, etc.) on everyone different from you.

      First it will be LGBTQ-themed books. Then it will be Toni Morrison. Then it will be “Maus” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Yes, the so-called “radicals” of whom you speak are well aware of where this is headed.

      • Katerina Kireyeva

        Mr. Grimm, you don’t even know me, yet you chose to insult me simply because I dared to point to the facts. I am a parent of three children in Westport schools and I will continue standing up to the paedophles and groomers who want to harm my children.
        And btw, Westport police was copied in at least some complaints to the district.
        On this note I wonder what do YOU have to gain from promoting pornographic and paedophilic materials to our children?
        Also, please do not mix up materials of educational and cultural value and significance with porn.
        Parents like me want to see our children educated not indoctrinated by groomers.
        Lastly, books about Holocaust are being ”cancelled” by radical left because they do not fit their “white privilege” narrative.

        • Are you accusing someone in town of being a pedophile? Or are you just frothing your pumpkin spice latte?

      • Robert M Gerrity

        Bravo, Chris. Thanks for taking the time to cover a lot of points I thought of but can not get to. Democracy depends on knowledge unhindered for an educated people.

        • Katerina Kireyeva

          Mr. Gerrity, thank you for coming out of your closet together with two other men who are defending pornographic and paedophilic materials at Westport public school district.

  18. Matthew Miller

    FOOD FIGHT!!!!

  19. Clark Thiemann

    Cheers to Mr Grimm’s email. All this fake outrage about a couple books is typical pandering for the Republican party to try to stir up fear heading into the election (remember the CRT signs on the Post Rd last year?). Alma Sarelli already pulled this fake outrage game running for BOE last year and now she’s bringing it to the state legislature race — with a new addition of a husband who plays dumb after threatening a high school journalist! Can’t figure out why anyone would ever vote for this.

    And Mr Harrington, while I respect your wishes for more conversation, we can’t let a disingenuous group of the same 10 people hamstring our hard-working librarians, teachers and principals from doing their jobs. Thank you to Mr Scarice for all your work in the schools and for protecting your students.

    • Whoever the person commenting above is, he is not talking for all parents and all students.
      As a parent in a district, I insist that pornographic and paedophilic materials must not be shoved into children’s faces.
      Moreover, having school administrators, teachers, librarians work with such materials is disgusting on its own. They better spend their time preparing materials of scientific and literary significance and not porn!

      • Report them to the police, Kat.

        • Katerina Kireyeva

          I have included the police in my email-complaint. And I will follow up on that if my growing children will be presented with such trash. Don’t you have any doubts about that. An advice to you and alike: you better keep your sexual desires private.

        • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

          What this country has become in just six short years makes me sick. I relocated from Westport to the Midwest as a young, single, newly promoted businessperson in 1978 and 44 years later similar “discussions” are being held at school board meetings in the bucolic middle class community in which my wife and I raised our two grown sons. My oldest son is a high school band director in Big Bear Lake California and he is living in the same nightmare amid the politicization/weaponization of every aspect of children’s lives. He is considering leaving the profession. I hope the former First Lady is still proud of her country. Unfortunately I no longer am.

  20. This email thread has run its course. It is closed to further comments.