Resident: Student Reps On Board of Ed “Illegal”

The Board of Education will add 2 high school representatives soon: one senior and one junior, both from Staples.

There are caveats. They cannot vote or read board correspondence. They will not attend executive sessions (which may deal with personnel, security and other sensitive matters). They must be in good academic standing.

It’s not a novel concept. At least a dozen other districts in the state — including Madison, where superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice previously served — have student representatives on their Boards of Education.

All 4 Democrats voted in favor of the proposal. All 3 Republicans opposed it.

Most public comment was positive. One resident, Camilo Riano, wondered why students should have more rights than he does in addressing the board.

Staples PTA co-president Michele Carey-Moody noted that any adult who wants a voice on the Board of Ed could run for a seat on it.

Now Riano has taken his concerns a step further.

He retained attorney Vincent Marino, who emailed 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker.

Marino says, “the Board will grant these new appointees the privilege to participate during each meeting ‘seated at the Board table’ with the right and expectation ‘to contribute to the Board’s decision-making process.’…

“The student representatives are expected to recommend suggestions and topics. for discussion and consideration by the Board.’ The student representatives are further expected to ‘speak on any issue on the Board meeting agenda or motion before the Board.'”

Riano charges the Board with illegally creating 2 ex-officio membership positions, not authorized by the town charter or Representative Town Meeting.

Riano says that the charter does not establish or authorize ex-officio positions, or give the board the authority to increase its membership, and that all members shall be elected.

Marino emailed Tooker because, he says, “if such authority exists, it rests with the RTM or with you as First Selectwoman, not with the Board itself. The Board’s action is, at a minimum, an illegal usurpation of legislative authority.”

On behalf of Riano, he requests that Tooker rule the board’s action out of order, “and void ab initio.”

He adds, “If permitted to stand, the Board’s illegal action creates a precedent that boards and commissions can circumvent the RTM and unilaterally disrupt the composition of their membership, including the partisan balance.”

Scarice and Board of Ed chair Lee Goldstein said they had been advised by the board’s attorney that the board could add student representatives.

Late yesterday, 1st Selectwoman Tooker could not be reached for comment.

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41 responses to “Resident: Student Reps On Board of Ed “Illegal”

  1. Odd (not really) that all three opposed are Republicans…a wise bet is that Riano also voted for Trump.
    Why would ANYONE, logically, oppose representation on a decision making board by those affected by the decisions…unfathomable.

    • Jeff Arciola

      Wow Dan Katz. What a great response. Typical liberal hatred at its best. Wouldn’t expect anything else from you.

      • Richard Fogel

        It is not hate. Hate to a Republican is someone that uses fact and logic. Dan is point on

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      Dan, if you were to adopt the nickname “Kool” your postings would be even funnier. 🤜🤛😎

  2. Janet Hostetler

    Extremely biased presentation of the situation. Westport Journal did a much better job. It is incorrect that the student board members cannot attend executive sessions; they can if the chair says they can. The full letter is provided in the link below. People can judge for themselves if the town charter is being violated again (as Mr Riano and his attorney previously pointed out with respect to TEAM, which led to significant changes in its membership). Like it or not, we have to comply with the law.

    • Madison Malin

      Let me get this straight– You say Dan presented a very biased view of the situation, and said Westport Journal did a better job. How about linking to that article instead of one from a publication that has News (not Opinion!) headlines such as “CT AG Tong Joins With 16 Other State AGs In Outrageous Agreement To Hide Student Gender From Parents”? Or, that in its “About” section writes about Connecticut and the role they intend to fill, “Long suffering from an absence of patriotic media..” This seems like a very objective source. I am quite sure that Dan could post the entire letter in its whole if you just asked for it to be added to the post or comments.

      • Janet Hostetler

        I posted the link that contained the full letter and figured everyone could find the WJ article on their own, but here you go:

        • Russell Gontar

          Please provide the official document describing the actual policy from the BOE. Your first link might as well have been sourced from Neptune and your second post is still not the real information. You make assertions, but fail at substantiating them. Straight outta the DJT playbook.

          • Janet Hostetler

            The first link contains the actual letter in its entirety at the bottom of the story.

            The second link contains another link to the document that has the bylaw. For convenience I will paste that link here. You have to scroll down to page 81.

            I hope this is clear.

            • Russell Gontar

              The first link is to Mr. Mariano’s letter which isn’t the topic of this discussion. We are trying to better understand the BOE’s new policy regading student representatives attendance and participation at BOE meetings. I could care less what Mr. Marino has to say.

              Your second link is to draft word document of the proposed new policy but even that makes clear that the student reps are NOT members of the board and are NOT designated as ex-officio members despite what Mr. Marino asserts. The Board chair can invite whoever he wishes to attend executive sessions including the student representatives as he/she sees fit. There us nothing unusual or nefarious about that.

              Seems to me the Board is acting in full compliance with its own by-laws.

              Beware of darkness.

              • Ah, you fell for it!!! Look at all those edits and manipulations of the wording after they realized they were violating the town charter. You can’t simply declare you are not violating the town charter when you are substantively doing exactly that by creating these non-voting board member positions. Read the bylaw. The student reps are not mere guests or observers, they are active board participants—in other words, members.

                • Russell Gontar

                  So first you provided a link to a draft document and then complain it’s in draft form with all of those, you know, changes. Damn. I always hated tracked changes. All of those colors, insertions and comments. Why can’t documents just write themselves damnit!

                  Participants are not members, no matter how many times you share your own confusion. Show me a final document/bylaw that actually states what you allege and I’ll buy you a hamburger next Tuesday. If the board wanted them as members that’s what they would have said.

                  • Oh, Russell. I am not complaining that the document is in draft form, far from it. It is wonderful since the track changes demonstrate the legal thought process. They set up an arrangement that violated the town charter and when someone noticed, they shifted all the words around and even said, hey, we’re not violating the town charter! But nothing changed substantively. They can call the kids whatever they want in order to deceive the public, but if they are giving them all the rights and privileges of board members (other than voting) and if the kids will be sitting up there on the board acting like board members, they are in fact board members! And the board itself has no right to appoint additional board members.

                    • Russell Gontar

                      I’m going to wrap up here, but again, students have NOT been given “all the rights and privileges of board members” which you simultaneously acknowledge and yet continue to assert. Most puzzling. And, they don’t “sit up there on the board” whatever that is supposed to mean.
                      They are no more members of the board than the fake electors Trump sent into steal the election were the actual electors.

                      Any time you want to provide a bonafide, official, final document from the BOE that states what you allege, we’ll be waiting. In the meantime, I trust that most 06880 readers will be able to see right through your made up and false claims.

  3. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    Let’s look at the facts. Per Dan’s narrative:

    “There are caveats. They cannot vote or read board correspondence. They will not attend executive sessions (which may deal with personnel, security and other sensitive matters). They must be in good academic standing.”

    So, in fact, they are not “student representatives.” They don’t legally represent anybody. The board is merely granting them limited attendance privileges. Which I’m sure can be revoked at any time for any reason.

    I would suggest they be referred to as what they are: Student Guests. But, of course, if we did that, Westport’s news day would be even slower than it is now. There would be no story and no excuse for a stupid fight between ideologues on both sides.

    • Janet Hostetler

      Sir, you are misinformed. You can read exactly how the student reps will be empowered. There is a link to the bylaw at the end of the Westport Journal article. In short, at the discretion of the chair, they will have all rights of elected board members except for voting. What is happening here is the Democrat majority is expanding the board with new members whom they will pick themselves and whose participation in board activities they will totally control. It’s an abuse of power and illegal. Only the RTM can change the composition of the board. Has nothing to do with ideology.

      • Eric Buchroeder

        If they have no voting power then they are pretty much useless except as figureheads. That was my point. They are not capable of providing any substantive value one way or another.

        • I actually disagree. Voting is of less significance because the Dems have majority. But what the student board members can do, and why the Dems were so adamant about setting it up like this, is serve on committees, propose motions, shape the discussion, argue with and take airtime from actual grown-up elected board members. The whole point of this is to disrupt the board (and drown out the minority board members) with their handpicked students. Everyone was fine with the kids being on a separate committee that reported TO the board but Dems wouldn’t have it. The students had to be seated as board members (which is crazy in itself, they are children and this is a $130 million operation).

          • Russell Gontar

            1. They are NOT “board members” no matter how many times this is asserted, they just aren’t. But sowing doubt and disinformation about our public institutions is the plan, isn’t it?
            2. In matters of public governing, the rules of the game tell us that the political affiliations of those who serve the public are entirely irrelevant to governing and blatant attempts such as yours to muddy the waters only serves to illuminate your own biases and political agendas.
            3. The students are not “seated as board members”. Or do you subscribe to the costanza rule: “it’s not a lie if you believe it”.

            For extra credit, please tell us, in your own words, who won the 2020 presidential election. Be sure to show us your work.

            • With respect to #3, this is a direct quote from the bylaw…

              “The Student Representatives will be seated at the Board table during each Board meeting and will be expected to contribute to the Board’s decision-making process…”

              Do you still stand by your assertion that they are not “seated as board members?” Or do you want to invoke the Costanza rule?

              • Russell Gontar

                “Seated at the board table” is a directive as to where the students should sit, isn’t that clear? It does NOT state that where they park their fannies during a board meeting confers upon them board member status. And yes, they are encouraged to “contribute”and by that, meaning to speak, listen and learn. That, is the point of them being there.

                Once again you failed to provide an official document that that states “students are members of the board” because there is no such document. Just like there weren’t 11,780 votes to be “found” in Georgia.

                • Lexi Jones

                  You are really pursuing a silly line of argument. The BOE is the entity that is evading the law here. It is not up to the BOE to tell us they are doing so. It’s like saying OJ isn’t a murderer because he didn’t declare himself one.

                  The point is, these positions created by the bylaw are effectively board seats, regardless of what the BOE claims. I fully acknowledge they don’t have voting rights and there are some other differences versus the positions of elected board members (mainly related to the ability of the chair to determine when they can or cannot participate). But the town charter is what defines the composition of the BOE, and this does not leave room for the BOE to add quasi-board members who enjoy some or most but not all of the privileges of elected board members.

                  Imagine the Republicans controlled the Board of Finance and they decided to add 12 new non-voting members who would otherwise have all the rights and powers of the elected members. Or maybe they would only be allowed to vote every other meeting. Would the Republicans have free reign to do this, merely because these new members didn’t have the full set of privileges of elected members and therefore wouldn’t be considered “members?” If the Republicans called them “reps” instead of “members” would it make a difference? Of course not. Corporate boards have non-voting members all the time. Dan even pointed one out below.

                  • Russell Gontar

                    “The point is, these positions created by the bylaw are effectively board seats, regardless of what the BOE claims”.

                    There is no such thing as “effective” board membership. You’re either on the board (or bus) or you’re not. And antifa didn’t do 1/6.

                    Your statement would garner a “see me after class” in 10th grade debate class.

                    • Lexi Jones

                      By your “logic” the BOE could appoint any number of “reps” who would do the exact same thing as board members, even give them voting power, but because they didn’t name them “board members” they wouldn’t be board members for purposes of interpreting the town charter.

  4. Jack Backiel

    I live in Howard County, Maryland where there are about 15 high schools. Each high school principal nominates six students to attend a convention. Middle schools get three to attend the convention. Everyone 6th grade and above votes. HCPSS grants the winning student full status as a board member and can vote on all issues except issues pertaining to budget, personnel, or other restricted matters. The student Board member brings a lot of feedback from the 300,000 plus students.

  5. Jack Backiel

    300,000 residents, not students.

  6. Steve Stein

    “The Board of Education will add 2 high school representatives soon: one senior and one junior, both from Staples.”

    The students are not being appointed BOE members. They are special HS representatives/ guests. as a way to guarantee student perspective on issues before the BOE. I would think the BOE can invite any special guests they want to invite. Mr Riano can be an unspecial guest at any open meeting he cares to attend.

    Unfortunately by voting along political party lines the BOE members created a political appearance to students guests/representatives to the Board.

    Just another wedge issue that creates another straw man to be fearful about!

    Bottom line- is student input to BOE deliberation valuable?
    Is this worth a political party line vote/ fight?
    Does this make the students more important than Mr Riano or the general public?

    I don’t see the merit of a lawsuit, a party line vote or party line fight- I would think there are lots of Democrats and Republicans on both sides of this issue. But that is just my humble opinion.

  7. Jack Backiel

    I’m actually surprised Westport waited so long to do something like this!

  8. I am proud to say that two high school students sit on the State Board of Education in my new state of Vermont, one a junior and one a senior.

    • Edward Bonham

      Those positions were created by the governor himself, thus amending the state policies. The BOE is bound by a town charter, which was not amended, circumventing the process and setting precedent.

      Would much rather see a student body, with grade representatives, and BOE members that attend/alternate and report their minutes/findings at monthly meetings.

      It also gives more than just TWO students chosen by the majority party of the BOE a chance to explore leadership and civics.

      BOE members are elected by the electorate of the town, the student body should also hold elections to elect students…is that not democracy? Would give people like my granddaughter a chance!

    • Connecticut also has 2 student representatives on the state Board of Education. One of the first 2 — 2 years ago – was Staples’ Natalie Bandura.

      She also served as editor-in-chief of Inklings (which won a Columbia Scholastic Press Association gold crown), and captain of the math team (4th place in the state competition).

  9. David Kershner

    Here are a few reasons to object to the “student reps”.

    1) The very first civics lessons these students will learn right out of the gate are first, no need to work with political opponents if you have more votes – don’t even bother discussing compromise, just outvote them. Second, that if you plan to ignore a law, the best approach is to hire a lawyer to find a loophole (ex. calling yourself a “representative” rather than a “member”) rather than simply adhering to the law or going through the more difficult effort of changing the law. So student reps, be aware that legal loopholes are an excellent way to avoid laws you disagree with. (For awareness, Vermont allows student BOE members, and they did it the “right” way – allowing it by law
    2) This is not giving an opportunity to “students” except in the extremely narrow interpretation of no more than two students who are hand picked by a bare majority of the BOE. Other students may want to be involved, may want to be allowed to have a two-way conversation with the BOE, may want to have a seat at the table, but this provision does not permit that. Two and only two, and selected by effectively one person, and not even elected by the students themselves. I have corresponded and talked with several members of the BOE on this subject, and several of the Republican BOE members have pointed out this is one of their major objections – that it precludes the vast majority of students from this opportunity, and is not even representative of the students themselves (“the students” have no say)
    3) The BOE itself is an important enough entity that the town charter has a law dictating the composition of the BOE and the procedure by which members are selected. Individuals have to campaign, debate, raise funds, persuade voters, build platforms, etc., to have the privilege to be elected to the BOE. The Westport School District has a taxpayer-funded budget of more than $120 million. Taxpayers should have a say on who sits on the BOE, and until this resolution was passed, did have that say. As a local taxpayer I am not afforded an opportunity to have a two-way conversation with the BOE, to propose a new policy, to determine the Superintendent’s salary, etc. Nor will any other student (not saying they should). Other than voting, there a NO limitations on what these student reps can do or say. From the very nature of this resolution itself, we should all be aware of “loopholes” and the one here is that the document says student “reps” can participate in anything at the discretion of the chairperson. So yes, they can be added to email distributions, and yes they can be involved in determining Dr Scarice’s salary and bonus.

    There are other reasons why this may or may not be a good idea, but without even digging into those arguments, it seems like this whole thing, while maybe well-intentioned, was executed in a very partisan and very convoluted way to avoid provisions of the town charter. Notwithstanding the resolution of this legal matter, I would hope the BOE would try to set a better example to students (and to broaden the opportunity to more students). Then again, I almost have to wonder if maybe this is the lesson they in fact are hoping to impart.

  10. Robert Harrington (Board of Education member)

    As a Republican Board of Education member in Westport I feel this was ALL avoidable. It’s unfortunate to see a legal challenge. I don’t think a challenge is particularly helpful. It is a distraction.

    We should have worked a little harder and longer to deliver a 7-0 vote. We should be celebrating this opportunity to empower students – but too many questions were left unanswered before the vote. This was rushed and chaotic. We can and should do better.

    It’s unfortunate that students will be joining our board when there is so much division. We should do it the right way for them. I get division on DEI or CRT. But on student engagement at the BOE? I am 100% confident we could arrive at a 7-0 unanimous vote.

    To be clear I do not agree with all or even most of the issues raised over time by Mr Riano at the BOE. However, I do defend his right make his many points. I broke the BOE rules at one meeting last year when I spoke out about his comments during the meeting regarding his criticism of our BOE Chairwoman who decides not to take the pledge of allegiance. I felt he was bullying her. To me it was wrong.

    On this issue about student involvement at the BOE it seemed there was really zero interest in trying to answer any of the questions or arriving at a workable compromise.

    To be clear the minority Republicans want to empower student voice. We still do. We want to hear from more students. We want to hear from them more often. Sadly this became political and I simply don’t know why. It looked to me as an individual board member that the Democrats had the votes – and they decided to move on regardless because they know they could drive it through.

    I am in favor of empowering ALL student voices and getting feedback from ALL students at EVERY MEETING. Not just from two appointed elite students.

    The narrative from some democrats that we don’t support student participation at the BOE is simply untrue. We actually want more participation.

    We are excited that the Student Council at Staples High School (that was left to fade well before covid), is being reinstated with elections for those members. We asked to consider more students being involved in the BOE rather than limiting it to only 2 students over a 2-year period. We also asked for “Town Halls” at all of our schools so we could engage in a 2-way conversation with as many students as possible.

    We believe that student voice is critical. We believe that hearing from more students, and more often – would be a win for our district. We want to tap into their valuable perspective and experiences.

    Before important any policy is passed we feel strongly that the details should be known beforehand.

    Key questions remained before the vote:

    Why was the legal language changed in the days before the vote and why were board members not allowed to speak or engage with the BOE attorney about this?

    Why are members of the Student Council going to have “elected” members, but the BOE Reps will be “appointed”?

    What is the relationship between the Student Council and the BOE Reps going to be?

    Why are the Student Council Members not going to get a voice at the BOE?

    Why are we limiting the BOE Reps to just 2 students over a 2-year period? Why can’t we involve more students?

    When will BOE Reps be expected to be at the meetings (sometimes they last 4-5 hours) or can they just choose to leave when they want or because it is late? (That seems reasonable given their age and they are studying). But can elected BOE members just choose to leave parts of the meeting they don’t want to engage in?

    These are just some of the unanswered questions. There other important ones too. Democrats didn’t seem to mind as we could work it all out as we go and tweak it where necessary. We don’t do that on things like redistricting or transportation so why should we take a different approach here?

    The Board of Education is the governing body of our school district and we should get this right.

    Rather than get distracted by this legal challenge – we should work through the summer and arrive at a very achievable compromise. I am convinced we can get to a place where we have a 7-0 unanimous vote that we can all be proud of. If we truly want to empower students and get their perspectives – then let’s have a serious conversation.

    Will the Democrats work with us or do they just want to drive on ahead? They have the votes and they don’t need to work with us – but it would be a win for Westport and our students if they tried.

    I promise you that we will work with fellow board members until we get this right.

    I would like to try that approach.

  11. Steve Stein

    It appears from Mr Harrington’s long response that there is a lack of trust on how to dot the “I”s and cross the “t”s. But it boils down to who appoints the student representatives and what point of view those students will bring to the Board of Education from their “appointed, non voting, non member special guest representative” status.

    Again this is a straw man issue not deserving of either a party line vote or a law suit. Just Democrats and Republicans refusing to cooperate to do the right thing and just approve regular student voices to all Board meetings. Bottom line- Everyone including Mr Riano and the entire Westport student body, during open Board of Education sessions have the right to speak their thoughts to the 7 elected members of the Board.

    The details should have been worked out.
    The vote should have been 7-0.

    • Steve, what you are failing to understand is that these positions were always intended to be board member positions, mirroring the non-voting student board member positions on the state Board of Ed (who are appointed by the governor). Scarice referred to them as such for a long time. They are just shifting the labels now to get around the charter. Mr Riano and any other taxpayer normally has only two minutes to address the board at the start of a meeting. These student board members will have no limits. They will be participating in discussions like any other board member. If you don’t know what you are talking about, you shouldn’t be spouting your opinions. No one would object if this were structured such that they were just guests of the board as you falsely claim.

      • Steve Stein

        Ms Jones- I am not at a Board meeting, I am on Dan’s blog.

        As far as I can see this is a free country and I can spout my opinion as I see it.

        Bottom line- Do you think this is worthy of a lawsuit? Do you think there should be student representation at all Board meetings? These are straightforward yes or no questions.

        If the student representatives were called representatives when the Board finally voted on this issue and those representatives never had the right to vote or to attend executive sessions- therefore their only privilege and your objection is that the student representatives get to speak more than the time allotted the general public- because they are invited guest/representatives of the Democrats on the Board.

        Now please tell me what I am missing and why I should not spout an opinion!

        Do you think someone is pulling a fast one on someone? Is there a conspiracy I am not aware of?

        Are the Democrats on the Board cheating the Republicans on the Board by having someone (as yet unnamed) appoint two student representatives (as yet unnamed) to come to the Board meetings to provide student input.

        I personally think this is a straw issue not worthy of the time being spent on it. I think anyone speaking at a Board meeting should be able to make their point in 2 minutes. As a past two term president of a local synagogue, as a past chair of a hospital radiology department I have supervised enough board meetings to be entitled to an opinion on what is valuable input and how long comments should be to any board.

        But as my lawyer friends tell me- labels do mean everything- in a court of law. Currently the students are being called representatives, not members with voting rights. Invited special guests, not members with voting rights. Junior and senior Staples HS students, not members with voting rights.

        What am I missing?

        (And finally)- I think you could have been more polite in your response to my post if you disagree with something in my post. I would have said to you- “I disagree with your position and you are entitled to your opinion”! I would not say Lexi- you are failing to understand, you don’t know what you are talking about and you shouldn’t be spouting your opinion on Dan’s blog.

        • With all due respect, I think you are missing some key points and are not familiarized with the bylaw that was passed 4-3. You can share whatever opinions you have as much as you want, free country still (ish), but my suggestion would be to be well informed about the topic.

          The so-called student reps are functionally student board members, as the bylaw makes clear and as was always the Superintendent’s intent. This is very similar to the way the non-voting student board members are situated on the state board of Ed.

          I personally have multiple objections to the arrangement. I don’t think kids should sit on the board with the same speaking rights and ability to participate in board deliberations as elected adult board members (except for voting). The board is deliberately a seven person board as determined by town ordinance with no more than 4 from one party. Contrary to your assertion, the bylaw makes clear how these students will be selected, by board vote. So the majority party will determine who the students are. And the chair (who represents the majority party) will have the ability to choose when and how the students participate. My personal belief is that this ability will be used to advance the agenda of the majority party. And this is why the majority party wouldn’t accept alternatives like a committee of students that reported TO the board.

          But the biggest issue is the precedent. It’s not what the BOE labels the students that matters- it’s the powers they grant them. They can call them “shmembers” rather than members but it wouldn’t change anything. These students are non-voting board members, as the bylaw makes clear, notwithstanding hollow assertions to the contrary within the bylaw, added for the sole purpose of maneuvering around the obvious problem- that the BOE itself has no authority to change its composition.

          If we allow the BOE to break the law here, any town board can increase its membership by merely labeling the new members something else.

          I’m on the side of compliance with the law and if it takes a lawsuit to ensure that, more power to Mr Riano.

  12. Eric Buchroeder

    What do they do in Bridgeport? Maybe check that out and see if there are any “learnings” that could be imported into the WBOE playbook. Better yet!!! Maybe do an exchange program kind of like the one Westport used to have with the AFS.

  13. I could not find any local information to verify “Fred Stanwick,” whose log-in information matched that of another commenter with a legitimate name. I asked for proof that that was his real name. I did not receive a reply. I have removed Fred’s comments, and am closing this thread to further comments.