Jennifer Tooker
First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker / File photo

WESTPORT — A Black couple, joined by several other parents, stunned the Board of Education this week with accounts of how their children have repeatedly suffered racist bullying at Staples High School, Bedford Middle School and elsewhere in town.

Dr. Carol Felder, accompanied by her husband Richard Anderson, told school board members and administrators that their high school-age daughter has been targeted with racist taunts referring to her as “monkey” and the n-word.

Their middle school daughter also has been victimized by racist behavior, Felder said, including having a prop gun pointed to the back of her head during a play rehearsal and being told, “This is what happens to people your color.”

“If you asked me today, the most difficult thing that I’ve ever had to do is raise Black children in Westport, Connecticut,” an emotional Felder said, describing “heinous,” “hateful” and “unspeakable” incidents involving her children.

Felder said the racist incidents are not isolated, but chronic. The school district’s anti-bullying policy does not work, she said. 

“This is not just a Board of Education problem … It’s a Westport, Connecticut problem,” Felder added.

Several other speakers told the board about similar incidents of bias they and their children have suffered.

On Friday, First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker responded to the parents’ reports of racism and bias.

Following is Tooker’s statement: 

“Every time I speak publicly, even as recently as last week at the State of the Town address, I state that one of my top priorities is to ensure Westport is a place where everyone feels like they belong — where people feel safe and seen and heard. I regularly acknowledge that we have more work to do as a community.

“It is with shock and disappointment that I listen to the devastating comments made by parents at the Board of Education meeting this week.

“I want the residents and business owners to know there is no place for any form of hate in Westport. There is no place for racism in Westport. Our community strongly rejects hate in all forms.

“We must all stand together and speak clearly and unequivocally on this issue. We should demand accountability. 

“Westport has my unwavering commitment to continue to work with local leaders, including TEAM Westport and the school administration, to create a supportive environment where we, as Superintendent Tom Scarice said, treat each other with dignity and respect. 

“We all want to feel like we belong. Every one of us deserves to feel valued. When one of us is harmed, we are all harmed.”