Minutes of TEAM Westport Meetings Reveal Undue Influence on our Schools
T EAM Westport began life as an official Town committee with modest and reasonable ambitions. As the group’s founder explained on August 2, 2005, when the RTM approved the ordinance that established TEAM:
We are making ordinance [sic] to have an organization that can help make people feel welcome in town… That’s it. It’s not to tell anybody what to think. It’s not to tell anybody what they ought to do. It’s not to champion any kind of philosophy.
Fast forward seventeen years, TEAM Westport appears to have become exactly what it promised skeptical RTM members it would not become: an organization that enjoys the imprimatur of Town government that tells people what to think and what they ought to do and champions a philosophy. TEAM does this brazenly on our Town website. “Antiracism” is the philosophy by which TEAM now defines itself. The group dedicates an entire page to this subject where it sets forth the following commandment to the citizens of Westport:
To create an equal society, we must commit to making unbiased choices and being antiracist in all aspects of our lives.
We have previously discussed how TEAM Westport’s most recent essay contest promotes the ideology of antiracism and thereby violates Board of Education policy to the extent this contest is advertised in our schools. As problematic as this essay contest is, it is unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg.
In recent weeks, a document has circulated which compiles direct verbatim quotes from the minutes of TEAM Westport meetings. The information compiled in the document was drawn from TEAM’s own meeting minutes since 2016, which are also available here.
We urge all Westporters to review these documents in detail, as they reveal TEAM’s shocking and, in our view, highly improper level of involvement in our schools. We call attention to three critical areas where TEAM has aggressively sought to influence how our schools operate and has apparently achieved significant success.
What our children study in school is a highly sensitive matter that should be determined by the educational experts we hire and the Board of Education we elect to oversee them. Outside groups, especially ideologically motivated groups such as religious organizations or activist committees like TEAM, should not weigh in and apply pressure on these decisions. You may be wondering why your tenth grader is now assigned to read antiracism advocate Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped. Or why your eighth grader no longer studies Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (a classic work of American literature once considered essential to our understanding of civil rights but a book that is now in the crosshairs of antiracist cancel culture and is perhaps not so coincidentally attacked by Kendi himself in Stamped ). Clues to these questions are hiding in plain sight in TEAM’s minutes.
- July 2016: “TEAM Westport should meet the new curriculum and teacher development heads.”
- September 2016: TEAM Westport members “met with Westport Schools curriculum heads.”
- September 2017: “Educational material is in the process of being diversified.”
- September 2019: “At the high school, the 10th grade social studies curriculum is being reviewed… [A TEAM member] expressed a concern that work is primarily being done at the high school level where kids are more empowered. Several members around the table agreed that work needs to be done with the younger children and that teachers need to be equipped to handle whatever needs to be done.” [Emphasis added].
- March 2020: “The Superintendent focuses more on the high school, but we do need to look at K-8.”
- September 2020: “We are on track to strengthen our curriculum with regard to racism, PreK-12.”
- September 2020: “We will push for evaluation of the K-5 curriculum this year… All our students in grade 10 are reading Stamped – The Remix by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.”
- September 2020: “With respect to curriculum concerns, we cannot look only at areas of study that go deep. We have to go wide, because unless all teachers get the message and reinforce the message, the message will be seen as pertaining to just Social Studies, just English, or just AP. Every discipline has to deliver the same message of equity and fairness… No one gets a pass.”
One of the more coercive tactics TEAM Westport has deployed to press its ideological agenda within our schools has been to involve itself in hiring decisions. By muscling its way into decisions regarding how administration and faculty are chosen, and pressing for race-conscious hiring, TEAM Westport has obtained tremendous influence over how these professionals conduct themselves. Their livelihoods are on the line, and TEAM does not mince words when it comes to which ideas it finds acceptable and which racial backgrounds it finds preferable. Given the insertion of skin color as an important hiring variable, one might reasonably assume school employees who were not born with one of TEAM’s preferred skin colors might feel extra pressure to demonstrate loyalty to TEAM’s preferred ideology and act upon the organization’s “advice.”
- July 2017: A WPS administrator “is proactively recruiting candidates based on skill level and other factors… we recommend that more teachers of color be hired.”
- April 2019: TEAM Westport Chair “has written a letter to the board requesting some involvement by TEAM Westport in the process of hiring new administrators.”
- May 2019: “We particularly recommend a superintendent search slate with candidates from diverse backgrounds.”
- September 2019: The interim superintendent “said that soon we would have news about the process for selecting a new superintendent… TEAM Westport would like to have some part in that process.”
- January 2020: TEAM Westport members “met last Thursday with… the consultant working with the Board of Education (BOE) on the search for our new school superintendent. Presented to him were… a list of recommendations developed by TEAM Westport re: diversity equity and inclusion… Foremost is the need for someone who will lead the team focused on diversity for the entire district.”
- June 2020: “We made sure that TEAM Westport spoke with the recruiter for the Superintendent position. The Board spoke with candidates of color. [The current Superintendent] has made the connection with TEAM Westport already.”
What better way to indoctrinate our children than to indoctrinate those who will be responsible for their indoctrination? TEAM Westport’s minutes show extensive involvement in “antiracism training,” in particular through the Antiracist Research & Policy Center founded of course by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. Even if WPS employees are not receptive to the training, by repeatedly subjecting them to it, the strong message is sent that only one ideological perspective is tolerated in Westport schools.
- November 2017: TEAM Westport members “presented to a group of teachers at a Westport Professional Development Day.”
- June 2018: Additional “[t]eacher training from [TEAM members].”
- April 2019: “…[E]quity needs to be a theme for all administrative training going forward. We are looking to line up an anti-racism session this August, based on Dr. Ibram Kendi’s work.”
- June 2019: “The school district is talking to several groups about providing equity training… Teachers read this year’s TEAM Westport essays to help determine professional development needs.”
- December 2019: “Training conducted by Dr. Chris Petrella, Director of Engagement at American University’s Antiracist Research & Policy Center, and a colleague from the Center for the top 40 administrators in our school system took place on December 11th… very similar in content to our session last year in December 2018.”
- February 2020: “On December 9th, 2019, training was given to Westport school administrators by the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center founded by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi (American University).”
- June 2020: “[Interim Superintendent] Working with TEAM Westport has prompted us to do things I would not have done. We brought in 2 trainers from the Anti-racism Center at American University for 40 administrators. It brought practical results in the way we hire…”
By its own account, TEAM Westport has had extraordinary access to our schools and our children. This access is far beyond anything that was contemplated when the RTM formed TEAM Westport “in order to advise the appropriate Town officials” on how to foster “a more welcoming, multicultural” community. Several Westport officials have lately bemoaned the “division” that has plagued our town and expressed a need for solutions. These officials need to confront their own responsibility (if not individually then institutionally) for creating this division by letting TEAM Westport run amok.
Meddling in the most sensitive areas of our schools, tampering with the curriculum, pressing for potentially illegal racial discrimination in hiring practices and pushing for district wide antiracism training and implementation, TEAM Westport has transgressed any reasonable interpretation of its mandate, which as noted above is limited to advising Town officials on making Westport more welcoming. If we have division in Westport, it is because of the failure across Town government to prevent TEAM from evolving into an ideologically activist organization, subject to no apparent checks and balances, with free rein to interact directly with school and Town employees and even students.
TEAM Westport members are unelected and have no apparent qualifications to opine on how our schools are run. To our knowledge, few if any members of TEAM’s leadership even have children in our schools. In some cases, they are not even Westport residents. The division facing our town is a direct result of a group of political activists doing things they have no right to be doing that have a direct impact on our children
Where does responsibility lie? The RTM is responsible for its failure to define clear boundaries for TEAM when it established the committee in 2005. The Selectman’s office is responsible for allowing TEAM to evolve into the “champion” of a philosophy it promised it would not become. The Selectman’s office is further responsible for allowing its appointees to meddle in the functions of Town employees, down to the level of curriculum coordinators, rather than limiting their advice to Town officials as required. The Board of Education is responsible for failing to provide proper oversight of the most sensitive functions of our schools and allowing an external political body unchecked access.
This is not good government. This is not fair government or democratic government. Regardless of our individual political opinions, we should all be appalled at the abuse of power and improper influence that an outside group, with no justification or qualifications to be there, has exercised within our schools.
The First Selectwoman has publicly expressed support for TEAM’s “original mission.” We heartily agree that TEAM Westport should return to its original mission as articulated at the RTM meeting when it was established. To address the division within Westport, we call upon our Town leaders at all levels to take whatever actions are necessary to rein in TEAM Westport’s excesses and put the group back on track to serving its original limited purpose.