First Selectman Tim Herbst has never met former Trumbull High School substitute teacher Joe Rodgers, but he’d like to sit down and have a cup of coffee with him someday soon.
In response to statements made Tuesday afternoon about the Trumbull Board of Education and the overall structure of the town’s government, Herbst offered an opinion on the ongoing dilemma stemming from Rodgers being let go from Trumbull Public Schools on Aug. 30.
“It’s a political smear campaign and the kids are being used as pawns,” the first selectman told the Times Tuesday night. “Why else has he delayed until 20 or so days before the election? If this were so egregious why wasn’t it reported earlier? If it were me and I was upset, I would have been vocal about it a lot earlier.”
Herbst wondered why he was personally attacked by Rodgers when he played no role in his dismissal as a substitute teacher at THS.
“I don’t know the guy; I’ve never even had a conversation with him,” said Herbst. “I didn’t even know who he was until a few days ago when the Facebook group was made, and that’s why I think what he’s saying is ridiculous and disingenuous…
“The Board of Education and Office of the First Selectman are not involved with the hiring of substitute teachers,” he added. “The fact he’s leading people to believe otherwise is just ridiculous — the Board of Education doesn’t make personnel decisions like this one, and if they did they wouldn’t be influenced by me or my office.”
Rodgers told the Times Tuesday that the he was let go without explanation on the Sunday before the first day of school, Aug. 30, and that is was because he asked a student — the son of Town Council member Cindy Penkoff — not to circulate a posted that called President Barack Obama a “sick tyrant” and threatened his life.
In that article, Rodgers claimed that the post had been targeted by the FBI and had since been taken down.
Herbst said the article is in fact still up online, and that no such contact with the FBI has been made.
“If the FBI was concerned about this as a legitimate threat, then why was the minor never questioned? Why wasn’t the Trumbull Police Department ever asked to get involved or look into the concerned parties?” Herbst asked.
“You can’t just go around making blank statements like that and presenting them as truth,” the first selectman added.
‘Outright libelous statements’
Herbst released a statement after speaking to the Times Tuesday:
“I have been asked recently to weigh in concerning a Board of Education personnel matter,” the first selectman began his letter. “While I have no involvement in personnel decisions at the Board of Education, I will take this opportunity to address the outright libelous statements and falsehoods that were made by the former employee in question relative to my administration, the Board of Education, Dr. Cialfi, his staff and other Town officials.
“I have never met Mr. Rodgers and I have never had a conversation about him with Dr. Cialfi, his staff or any members of the Board of Education,” Herbst continued. “I did not even know who he was or what he looked like until this imbroglio, when his picture was posted online in media reports. I welcome the opportunity to have a dialogue in an honest, candid, face to face conversation with Mr. Rogers.
“I do not believe the inflammatory rhetoric that is being promulgated by him from behind a computer screen is productive and I do not believe it sets a good example for kids, especially as we teach them the importance of using social media in a responsible manner,” he added.
Similarly to the line of questions he posed in speaking with the Times. Herbst wondered why Rodgers didn’t contact a full-time teacher or a school administrator.
“If he had a legitimate concern with a Facebook post made by a student, why didn’t he contact a full time teacher, an administrator, social worker or behavioral specialist at Trumbull High School?” Herbst asked. “As a long time substitute at the high school, he is certainly aware of resources that are available to deal with these kinds of issues. Why didn’t he reach out to Dr. Cialfi or central office personnel?
“Why didn’t he reach out to Chief Lombardo or the Trumbull Police Department? Instead, Mr. Rogers, by his own admission acknowledges that he contacted the minor child directly, then the parent,” the first selectman continued. “This truly speaks to the veracity of his concern.
“The question I would pose to our educational administrators is given the training and professional development we instill in our teachers, would any other Trumbull Public School System employee have followed this same approach? Of course not.”
More on the FBI
Herbst said that when someone makes an assertion like Rodgers did earlier Tuesday “it should be confirmed with documentation or by a third party.”
“If the FBI believed this was a serious threat, then why wasn’t the minor child or the parent interviewed by the FBI? Why weren’t school administrators, teachers and central office personnel interviewed by the FBI? Why didn’t the FBI contact the Trumbull Police Department?” the first selectman continued his line of question. “I should note that none of the above occurred which goes to the credibility of the statement that was made.”
Herbst said that the whole incident was politically charged and politically motivated.
“This inflammatory approach, intended to create a lynch mob based on innuendo and supposition has created a volatile, toxic environment,” he said. “Mr. Rodgers comments earlier today are also intended to broad brush a whole group of people in a clear attempt to influence a political outcome on Nov. 3.”
The first selectman added that Councilwoman Penkoff and her son have been subjected to very serious threats on social media.
“These threats have been referred to Chief Lombardo and the Trumbull Police Department and will be addressed accordingly,” he said.