Robert Harrington was elected to Westport’s Board of Education 2 years ago, on the Republican ticket. Halfway through his term, he writes:
Two years ago I had a major issue with my local party’s silence stance over the anonymous “Westport Parents” WP06880.com website. In August 2021 the anonymous website was created. Signs started appearing around town stating “Wale up Westport! CRT is here!” in reference to Critical Race Theory.
Despite an uncomfortable election (when I was running), I decided to stay inside the local Republican Party and have been an active member at meetings since.
I am proud of the way my 2 Republican BOE colleagues and I have worked together and put that election behind us. The Republican minority on the BOE has tackled tough questions like redistricting. We’ve asked tough questions, and have not always sided with central office and our superintendent just because they are the administration of Westport Public School or its chief executive officer.
We haven’t always voted as a party block, and we’ve certainly participated in multiple unanimous votes on issues like our budget and school facilities.
That’s not the end of this article. I’m heading for another disagreement with my local Republican Party into the upcoming election.
I’m sure some in my party will be thinking of the words of President Ronald Reagan, “There you go again.” But this is too important for me to remain silent on.
I am highly disappointed by my party’s choice for at least one of the candidates for the Board of Education.
In late August, the Republican Town Committee nominated Camilo Riano and Jamie Fitzgerald for the Board of Education. I really cannot comment on Camilo’s running mate, as I have never met her or seen her at any BOE or Republican Party meetings.
I am not here to attack Camilo personally. He is a resident, a father of 4 kids who attend our public schools in Westport. Furthermore, he has participated in almost every BOE meeting over the past 2 years. He has turned up and been engaged.
Camilo Riano, from the livestream of a Board of Education meeting.
I don’t disagree with everything he has ever said. I personally strongly advocate for asking tough questions and involving parents in the education of our children. I may disagree with many of the comments he has made and actions he has taken, but he has every right to do that as a citizen, Westport resident and parent.
The real issue for me is that my local Republican Party has chosen to be associated with those views, and has voted to nominate him as one of our 2 candidates.
Our Republican candidate has stood up in public BOE meetings and been active on social media denouncing board members and school administrators for enabling “groomers.” He has directly called out the WPS Superintendent and accused him of “grooming” children. For instance, at a BOE meeting last October 3 he said, “Mr. Scarice, as superintendent of our public schools when are you going to stop the child grooming of our children?”
This is crossing the line.
I think we should all stop and pause for one second. Let it sink in. Those are the words of one of the official local Republican Board of Education candidates.
It’s one thing to disagree with an equity study, not support DEI, or even support a book challenge. But the words above were said directly to, and directly about, our school administrators, central office and our superintendent.
I personally have had several disagreements in public with our superintendent. I’m pretty self-aware, and I’m sure I have irritated and frustrated our administration on multiple occasions. I passionately believe it’s our role as elected representatives to support, question and challenge our leaders to make our school system better. Local residents also should challenge us as BOE members. I certainly did before I got elected, when I had the microphone for 2 minutes.
However, I would never accuse our administration or superintendent of anything like that. My Republican and Democrat colleagues on the board never have, and I’m confident they never would.
Secondly, Camilo has filed 2 complaints against the town of Westport related to student participation on the BOE, and challenging the composition of TEAM Westport. Do we really want to be nominating Republican candidates who are trying to take legal action against the town of Westport?
Over the past few weeks I have spoken with senior members of my local party, and been upfront about my concerns. I have also reached out multiple times directly to Camilo himself and explained my views. I have asked to speak with him either on the phone or in person, and consider retracting the “grooming” comments and apologizing to our school administrators and superintendent. He politely declined, stating, “I am really busy and do not see much value in getting together to discuss Mr. Scarice’s feelings.”
I think extreme attacks and accusations need to stop, whereever they come from. It’s not just from from the right. At the end of the last school year in a public BOE meeting a member of the public, and an active local Democrat (although not a candidate) referred to my Republican BOE colleague as a “Nazi.” Accusations and references to people as “Nazis,” “groomers,” “fascists,” “racists,” “Marxists” should have no place in our local politics. I hope we can leave all this behind.
Westport Board of Education members, with Westport Public Schools administrators and Long Lots School Building Committee representatives, last week. Robert Harrington is second from left, facing the camera.
Many people reading this may simply ask, “Robert, why do you stay in your party?” I am a Republican. I’m not going anywhere. I am going to stay and fight to try and change our party from within. I may well be unsuccessful. However, I feel it would be disingenuous to suddenly switch to being a Democrat. Even our local system of elections forces us to choose a party if we want to serve on the BOE, and our town charter limits any political party to a maximum of 4 of 7 members on the BOE. Running as an independent is simply not a reality.
The Republicans have not had a majority on the BOE in Westport for over 25 years. If both these candidates were to win, it would break this trend — and I might stand to gain personally. However, I would not want the Republicans to take control like this.
I really hope my party can find another way. I just can’t support them on this.