No one would have predicted this. A video of a talkative Greenwich Elementary School administrator has thrust public education into the center of the gubernatorial campaign.
James Boland, the vice principal of Cos Cob School, was reportedly recorded sharing his harmful views and how he applies them to hiring teachers. The edited video shows Boland recounting his practice of not hiring candidates for teaching positions who are Catholic, over the age of 30, or who hold conservative views. These candidates, according to Boland, do not pour leftist tropes into young minds. He also expressed his hostility to future teachers who might side with parents in their concerns about what their children are learning at a school run by Boland.
The video was produced, edited and published by Project Veritas, a right-wing group whose calling card is hidden camera videos revealing ugly opinions to undercover inquisitors. Project Veritas courts controversy and revels in the outrage it generates.
Boland’s video sparked consternation and outrage when it surfaced online on the last day of August. Greenwich school officials immediately suspended Boland, who remained silent. Governor Ned Lamont, who lives in Greenwich, said the Department of Education would look into the matter.
Republicans saw the video as an opportunity to capture and amplify an issue that would get voters to pay attention. Their immediate response came from US Senate candidate Leora Levy. Levy isn’t the best messenger because her only response is outrage. Levy also lives in Greenwich but she lives in a permanent apocalypse. Every event that cannot be attributed to his benefactor Donald Trump is a calamity.
The video as presented is disturbing. Boland’s views are repulsive. Also appalling is the ease with which he shared them with the woman he was talking to. Boland doesn’t seem to be articulating his rancid philosophy for the first time. He speaks fluently of contempt for those he caricatures. Boland seems smugly imprisoned by his own narrow worldview. His certainty that Catholics are rooted in the doctrine of the Church betrays an ignorance of the contemporary faithful.
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Attorney General William Tong misjudged the timing in his initial response before recovering a day later. Tong first condemned Boland while offering a scathing denunciation of the making of the video. Tong, the state’s civil law enforcement chief, said the video sounded like a trap, an absurd claim that distorted what was in front of us. Entrapment is a defense to a criminal charge. We are caught in the trap when the forces of order induce a person by force or coercion to commit an act that he would not commit otherwise. Whatever the cause of Boland’s chatter, coercion is unlikely to provide the explanation.
Tong said those questions should be left to the experts. From journalism to journalists, from law enforcement to law enforcement. People with essential knowledge who cannot act on their own tip. And then it starts – or not. The cases Tong investigates and the stories reported by reporters often begin with a tip from a stranger or someone with unsavory connections. We don’t want to discourage people with knowledge of wrongdoing from keeping it to themselves.
Tong recovered a day after his first statement and announced that he will apply his new authority to investigate civil rights abuses in Greenwich. It shouldn’t take long. Much of the government hiring process happens through documents – job offers, applications, interview scoring, and decision notes. Tong may uncover an unpleasant truth: Others might have known how Boland operated.
Bob Stefanowski, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, tried to capitalize on the public reaction to the video by unveiling a parents’ bill of rights for public schools. He focused on sex education and transgender athletes. These are issues that may inflame a slice of voters, but most parents are likely concerned about academic performance and school safety.
The academic achievement gap, a pressing issue a few years ago, has not gone away. The money from wealthy donors to nonprofits raising the issue may have dwindled, but the cost to students and society has not. Nor is the approaching demographic crisis. Most school districts in the state are housing fewer and fewer school-aged children. Districts will need assistance in managing consolidation management. A governor can help.
Whoever is elected in November will face four more years of a public higher education system with more campuses than students can fill. Difficult choices await him. Now would be the time to tell us what to expect as our rendezvous with reality draws closer.
Kevin F. Rennie of South Windsor is a lawyer and former Republican Senator and State Representative.