To the editor:

I write in support of Jamie Fitzgerald and Camilo Riano for the Board of Education. Both are highly qualified, dedicated Westport residents who would add an important and much-needed common sense perspective to the current board.  

Westport has long required that no single political party make up more than a bare majority of town boards and commissions, including the BOE.  This legal requirement has served the town well by ensuring that individuals with a variety of political viewpoints and perspectives are heard in town decision-making and oversight roles.  

Yet the Goldstein-Phillips campaign, whose party already holds a majority of the board, and a supposedly “unaffiliated” write-in candidate, have coordinated a joint campaign in a transparent effort to circumvent the law and effectively obtain a supermajority of the board.  

Every Westport resident should be concerned about the prospect of the board charged with providing core oversight and strategic direction for our schools becoming an echo-chamber with an almost unfettered ability to alter the direction of our schools as they wish. To succeed in this transparent effort to circumvent the bare majority law, the joint Goldstein-Phillips-Dillon campaign has gone to great lengths to portray Fitzgerald-Riano (and Mr. Riano, in particular) as “right-wing extremists,” “book banners,” and character assassination.  

Do not be fooled. I’ve spoken to Camilo many times over the past few years and he is a caring, highly intelligent, accomplished, and motivated parent who decided to run for the board because he wants to see all children succeed, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or socio-economic status.  

He believes all people — especially children — should be treated as individuals, and not grouped together into identity groups of privileged oppressors and oppressed victims. As a first-generation American, he believes passionately that all of our children have the ability to succeed given a quality education, whether privileged or those less fortunate, but that schools should focus more on education than on areas traditionally left to parents or mental health professionals.  

Two years ago, during the first summer of the pandemic, the board under the current chair approved the hiring of NYU Metro Center to conduct an “equity study” of the Westport Public Schools. NYU Metro is a radical, avowedly anti-capitalist, at times blatantly racist, organization that seeks to “transform” and “dismantle” education. It espouses an approach in which curriculum, disciplinary policy, grading and tracking, and teaching should be replaced with a system that sees everything through the lens of race, gender and social justice activism. They believe that any and all differences in outcome are necessarily the result of racism and discrimination. 

Among other things, the final Westport Equity Study report sought to portray the successes of Westport’s Asian students (actually a group made up of students with a wide variety of national and ethnic heritages and backgrounds) as attributable to their privileged access to resources, based on no evidence other than their disproportionate enrollment in AP and Honors classes.  

While the board and the administration have since understandably distanced themselves from the radical NYU Metro Center and its report, to this day the current Westport Equity Study Action Plan includes NYU’s recommendation that “the school district needs to audit the AP, Honors and Track B and C programmatic structure … and critically engage the disproportionality that currently exists.”  

Based on NYU Metro’s recommendations, with the support of the Board, the administration is also now pursuing “Social Emotional Learning” and “Culturally Responsive Education.” While these teaching philosophies may sound terrific to those unfamiliar with them — who would be against social development and cultural awareness? — in fact many forms of SEL and “Culturally Responsive” teaching were developed by radical activists such as those at NYU Metro and they have never been shown to be effective in a school district like ours.

This kind of identity politics, “white privilege” and oppressor/victim mindset threatens to rob our children of their own agency and ability to think critically. It is no wonder that colleges and universities that have championed these philosophies have seen a sharp rise in antisemitism, where Jews are seen as white oppressors whose successes are attributed to unearned privilege and oppression.  

A recent survey indicates that roughly 50 percent of young adults between 18-24 believe the recent barbaric actions of Hamas were justified. There is something terribly wrong with an educational system that produces such an utter collapse of rational moral thinking.

None of this is to say that any of the current candidates or anyone in our school system support Hamas, that they are in any way antisemitic, Marxist, or critical race theorists.  

To the contrary, I believe all of them are good people who want the best for our children. And we are very fortunate to have some of the finest teachers and administrators in the nation, all of whom are dedicated and hard-working professionals.  

But there can be little doubt that had it not been for parents such as Camilo Riano, many people would have had no idea that the Westport schools were even entertaining the ideas espoused by the likes of NYU Metro Center. Or that school libraries were actively promoting highly controversial books containing graphic depictions of child sex with literally how-to manuals about adult sex “hook-up” apps. To suggest that this material may not be appropriate for children as young as 13 is not extremist, it is not “book banning,” and it is not anti-LGBT.  

Candidates like Camilo Riano and Jamie Fitzgerald — who have real-world managerial and executive experience, are independent thinkers, who support academic excellence, who do not want Westport schools to go the direction of school districts like those in New York City, Baltimore, or California, and who are parents and neighbors — are not the extremists. They are the kind of candidates we should all want on our Board of Education.  

Andy Frankel