Rodgers supporters: We’re not political pawns

A photo from Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting where several Joe Rodgers supporters spoke in favor of the school district rehiring the former THS sub.
A photo from Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting where several Joe Rodgers supporters spoke in favor of the school district rehiring the former THS sub.

Back and forth the pendulum swings in the ongoing situation involving former Trumbull High School substitute teacher Joe Rodgers, the town’s Board of Education, its public officials, and former and current THS students.

After Tuesday night’s board meeting, where the board heard from nine public speakers and received six submitted letters in support of the sub who was let go on Aug. 30, organizers of a Facebook group “Stand With Mr. Rodgers” have begun to discuss what their next step is in the process.

“We’re at a point where I think we’ve shown the Board of Education and the Town that we all think Mr. Rodgers was an asset for the town and its students,” said Tom Cole, a THS alumni who graduated in 2014 and started the Facebook group. “The question on my mind is what next?”

In response to a statement released Tuesday night from First Selectman Tim Herbst, Cole said that the Facebook group and its 1,700-plus members did not rally around Rodgers for political reasons.

“The first selectman has accused this of being some sort of political movement, but as the sole admin of this page, I can assure you I’ve had no contact with any political body, and I promise you’re not being used as a pawn,” Cole wrote on the group’s page Wednesday morning.

The first selectman told The Times Tuesday night that he believed Rodgers and his band of supporters were putting on “a political smear campaign.”

“And the kids are being used as pawns,” Herbst said. “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,” he said. “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.”

Cole viewed Herbst’s response as an opportunity to shift the focus of the ongoing dilemma.

“In his view, [it’s] the poor child and the evil teacher,” the THS graduate said.

“Herbst and his supporters will continue to try to do this — they will dismiss any logical argument or overarching idea, and instead attack on small details,” he added.

No more passive support

Cole urged the group’s members to rev the engine a bit more than they did Tuesday night, where only one speaker requested that the board rehire Rodgers and questioned the motives behind letting the 13-year old substitute go the day before school started.

The student said that he believes the group has the power to create more of an impact.

“We’ve voiced our concerns, we’ve made a lot of noise — and we could continue with this passive support,” he wrote. “However, I firmly believe that for any more effect on the decisions being made and the people making them, we’ll have to get political. To keep making noise, we’re going to have to get political.

“I’ve always said I saw no need for centralization, and still don’t,” he added. “I don’t want you to be politically active because Mr. Rodgers was not rehired; I want you to be politically active because a culture exists within the town government that allowed this to happen. I’m sure Mr. Rodgers himself would agree.”

Rodgers, speaking with The Times Tuesday afternoon, expressed his concern towards the students rallying to support him and going up against the town’s political leaders.

“I’m very touched by the willingness of these kids,” he told the Times Tuesday afternoon. “But they know there’s something seriously wrong; something that’s embedded deep in the culture of their town and in the culture of their schools, and that’s not something they’re going to overcome tonight…

“You can hear the defeat in their posts on the group’s Facebook page, saying things like ‘don’t speak about the truth or will get thrown out of the meeting,’ ‘don’t discuss the controversy — you know how the board operates,’ ‘we just have to convince them they need more substitute teachers,’” he added. “They know that this is a totalitarian board that’s ultimately run by a dictatorship-style government.

“These are well meaning students and alumni from Trumbull High School and they’re basically admitting that they have to try some ruse to convince this board to make some sort of compromise.”

Heading to the polls

Quoting Bruce Coville, Cole wrote in the group’s page that “Withholding information is the essence of tyranny. Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship.”

“Mr. Rodgers asked for a reason why. He didn’t get one, and now he’s got almost 2,000 people asking why too,” Cole said. “Let’s make that a forceful ‘why,’ exercise our rights, and bring this matter to the polls.

“I’m not encouraging you to vote for any one party, but get to the polls and at least remind the town government that they are in fact accountable to the voters,” he added. “Democracy has, and always will, require active participation.”

Providing the group’s members some voting statistics, Cole said that Trumbull has 5% of people from 18 to 24 and 27.6% from 25 to 44.

“If all those people voted, think of how much of an impact they would have,” he said.