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Tension at BOE meeting

By MICHELLE FIRESTONE

Chronicle Staff Writer

WILLIMANTIC — Windham Board of Education Acting Chairman Murphy Sewall called police Wednesday after declaring a resident “out of order” during the school board meeting.

The tension erupted when Sewall felt Israel Torres, a parent in the district, was being disruptive.

Torres was angry regarding his child’s enrollment status at the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy in Windham.

“I’m asking you to leave the room,” Sewall told Torres, a parent who was speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting at Windham High School.

Initially, Torres refused to leave the room.

That prompted Sewall to call Willimantic Police and request they remove Torres from the room.

“You don’t care,” Torres said to Sewall.

He said he would always “fight” for his child.

When police arrived at the meeting, Torres had already left the room.

Police said they spoke with Torres, however.

Willimantic Police Chief Roberto Rosado could not be reached for comment this morning.

Police officers requested to speak with a member of the board in the hallway, and Sewall spoke with them briefly.

Torres, a parent in the district, said he was at the meeting to “discuss a mistake that was made about my son.”

He and his wife, Joselyn Acosta-Torres, a tutor at North Windham School, claim they were initially notified their child was selected for Barrows, a popular interdistrict magnet school for science, technology, engineering and math.

Later, however, they were notified that he was not selected.

Garcia said an unofficial list of students was posted online after the Barrows lottery by mistake, but that mistake was later corrected.

The tension at the board of education meeting was related to the district’s staff preference policy.

The district has a staff preference policy whereby employees in the district can use “staff preference” to improve their child’s chance of getting enrolled in Barrows or programs such as Compañeros, the district’s dual language program.

According to the policy, a staff member whose child is not selected through staff preference for Barrows will be entered into the general lottery.

In a May 4 letter from Acosta-Torres and Torres to Garcia, they indicated they had been looking to use the staff preference to apply for a seat at Barrows for their son.

Acosta-Torres and Torres indicated in the letter they wished to remove their son from Compañeros and enroll him at Barrows, feeling Compañeros would not meet their son’s needs.

School officials, however, said the staff preference could be used for only one program and had already been used by Acosta-Torres for Compañeros.

“The board can change that policy if they want, but employees cannot use that preference over and over,” Windham Superintendent of Schools Patricia Garcia said during the meeting.

She said all employees in the district were informed of the staff preference policy.

Torres claims Garcia did not communicate with him and his wife to address their concerns, though she had said she would.

He said Garcia “tried to sweep my wife and I like a piece of trash” and hoped they would “go away.”

Sewall interjected, saying Torres could speak about policy, but could not “attack a person.”

At one point during the meeting, Torres referred to Garcia by her first name, “Patricia,” and Garcia got offended and asked him to refer to her as “Dr. Garcia.”

School officials have informed Acosta-Torres she should file a grievance with her union regarding her concerns about the situation.

“You pushed me away saying this is a union issue and it’s clearly not,” said Torres. “I’m tired of people being sneaky and trying to hide stuff from us.”

Acosta-Torres said a union official told her she did not have a valid argument for a grievance.

Sewall said it is only within the board’s authority to address the matter if Acosta-Torres did file a grievance.

He told Torres the school board is trying to “protect your rights” and the alternative to filing a grievance was for Acosta-Torres and Torres to hire an attorney.

“Don’t make it sound like you are looking out for me, because you aren’t,” said Torres.

 

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