Dr. Carol Felder and Richard Anderson came to the Board of Education meeting Feb. 15 to report their children have repeatedly been targets of racist bullying in the town’s schools. / File photo 

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — Reacting to recent allegations of racist and antisemitic bullying in Westport’s schools, about 40 Black families met Sunday to plan a protest against hate Tuesday outside Staples High School, according to Harold Bailey Jr., chairman of TEAM Westport, the town’s multicultural advocacy committee.

Protesters, including both adults and some students, succeeded in highlighting the problem, said Dr. Carol Felder, who with her husband, Richard Anderson, had called the Sunday meeting to plan the protest. 

“We achieved our goal — there’s enormous community support which we greatly appreciate, we feel like we were heard and that this needs to be immediately addressed,” Felder said Wednesday.

“We are receiving support from marginalized groups and community-wide support” from “Black, brown, white, LGBTQ and religious groups,” she said.

Felder and her husband appeared before the Board of Education on Feb. 15 to describe racism their children have experienced in Westport schools. The protest was another action to promote awareness of challenges that minority children face in Westport, Felder said.

Bailey attended the protest along with several members of the Board of Education to make it clear that racism and other forms of bias — against any group — is not acceptable in Westport, he said.

“This is not a one-family, one-person issue,” Bailey said. “This has been going on with most Black families in town. The Black community got together … it’s really a demonstration for all of us.”

Bailey said that students using the “n word” to target Black classmates “is almost becoming routine in the schools. We’re hearing about it from parents talking about what they’re hearing.”

Of additional concern, he said, is that “it’s trickling down from high school to middle school, even elementary school … The bottom line is, I don’t’ care who’s saying it — it needs to stop.”

Both Felder and Bailey agreed the protest sprung from a groundswell of community support after Felder and her husband confronted school officials with their allegations. Although they initially wanted to take action immediately following the school board meeting two weeks ago, last week’s school vacation delayed the protest, she said.

Supt. of Schools Thomas Scarice said Wednesday that he had been aware that a protest was planned, but did not know who had organized it.

School officials must respond to acts of hate and bias, he said, and must ask themselves if they have succeeded in helping to eliminate such behavior.

“While no one has the cure that will stop every act of hate, the measure of our school community and town should be how we respond,” Scarice said. “Have we worked to make everyone feel like they belong? Are we kind? Are we fair? Are we following the law and best practices?” 

The district has adopted programs for students and staff to help fight bias and hate speech, the superintendent said. “As a district — at every level — we’re working hard to prevent and respond effectively to acts of racism and bias.”

School officials are partnering with local clergy to sponsor a forum next month on bias incidents in local schools. The event will take place at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, at Temple Israel, 14 Coleytown Road.

Felder said Wednesday that she and her husband intend to continue their campaign against local racism and hate speech.

“There’s more to come,” she said. “We’re not done yet.”

Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman and has taught journalism at New York and Southern Connecticut State universities.