It is heartening to hear that Southington’s latest effort to address inequality and exclusion in town government and the community will be a group whose meetings will be open to the public. While it is creditable that Superintendent Tim Connellan has already formed a social justice group to address such issues, its meetings are closed.
The school group consists of students, parents, teachers and administrators, and was organized after a video emerged in December in which a high school student threatens black students. Shortly after the video, students and others attended a school board meeting and shared stories of racial bullying and unequal treatment, while noting the lack of minority school employees.
The new group, to be named by Town Council Chairman Chris Palmieri, will consist mostly of town department heads and will be led by Town Manager Mark Sciota. In addition to the leaders of the Parks and Recreation and Police departments, at least two town employees will be members. The panel could also include Southington Women for Progress member Dorie Conlon Perugini, First Congregational Church pastor Ron Brown, and perhaps a representative of the NAACP.
Any recommendations will go to the Town Council for approval.
Palmieri, a Democrat who is also assistant principal of DePaolo Middle School, hopes to have the final membership list ready this week. He said he wanted to exclude elected town leaders from the panel in order to “remove politics from it.”
But politics is not so easily excluded. Republican Town Councilor Victoria Triano said the Democrats want to take credit for the effort in November’s election. “It’s so political,” she said.
Nevertheless, we can still hope that people will rise above their differences for the good of the town. And it speaks well for the town that these two panels are being formed to address perceived problems — especially in a community with a very low minority population, cited by the state as 1.9 percent black and 5.3 percent Hispanic.
As it says in the school system’s official state profile, “The Southington Public Schools recognize our growing diversity, and our responsibility to teach acceptance, and expand our view of the world. This effort includes our parents, teachers, staff, and the community of Southington.”
The town’s current efforts show a laudable willingness to live up to those aspirations. It is to be hoped that as little of this process as possible will take place behind closed doors.