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Ex-Bedford School Board Member Suggests Censorship of Comments

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A former Bedford Board of Education member questioned last week whether the board committed censorship of the speech of residents who were raising uncomfortable issues or unpopular positions after two other speakers were interrupted multiple times.

Pound Ridge resident Pam Harney made the comment at the Jan. 11 board meeting after speakers Karen Close, and Close’s daughter, Jennifer, were told not to mention students’ names in their comments.

Both Karen Close, the mother of one of the special education students victimized in last year’s Fox Lane High School bathroom photos incidents, and her daughter, addressed what they believed were insensitive remarks made by one of the two student representatives to the board, senior Liam Banks, at the Dec. 21 meeting.

They took issue last week with comments made that defended the district and portrayed a school with a positive culture.

“I just don’t understand the need to defend people who we know for a fact hid and failed to do their jobs,” she said, alluding to the independent Kroll report, which found that high school administration failed to follow proper steps after learning of the incidents.

Before leaving the microphone after being unable to complete her comments, Jennifer Close, apparently referring to Banks’ December remarks, said, “You have been lucky enough to have had a positive experience and I’m not going to tell you not to have an opinion, but you need to understand that what you say is very impactful. You have to remember that your words and actions mean a lot, especially when you’re talking about a perspective that you don’t understand.”

Board of Education President Edward Reder said that the board was steadfast in adhering to its policy of not naming students at board meeting.

“It’s a policy not to identify students,” Reder said. “I’m going to ask you not to do that.”

When it was her turn to speak, Harney said that the application of the board’s policies regarding speakers is erratic, where some who commented, including students, have been allowed to continue for five to seven minutes, but others are told their time is expiring. She suggested a pattern where the clock seems to move faster when uncomfortable comments are being expressed.

“Is the board into censorship and controlling speech because that’s what I’m getting from this?” Harney said.

During the Dec. 21 meeting, Banks acknowledged that it had been a difficult period of time for the school since the release of the Kroll report.

“We all need to move forward together because it’s clear if we don’t learn from history, history will repeat itself,” Banks had said at that meeting. “That incident does not represent the culture. During this hard time at BCSD, the only thing we can do is unite. Unity and love will always conquer over hate.”

Banks said during last week’s meeting it was never his intention to hurt anyone with his comment. He apologized if he had done so.

“My intention was just about unity, and I think that is a common ground in students and all of you,” he said.

Board Vice President Steven Matlin said given a string of highly sensitive issues the board and the district have been dealing with, Reder has done “the best job you can under some very difficult circumstances this year” in trying to moderate public comments. He said if there have been any perceived slights that it was not intended.

“So I want to commend you,” Matlin told Reder. “We’ve had some very difficult circumstances this year and so I think you’ve done the best you could,” Matlin said.

He asked whether board might want to discuss whether any changes should be made to the board’s willingness to have a public Q&A at each meeting this year. In previous years, only one of two monthly board meetings featured the Q&A.

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