Letter: See something, say something...apparently not in Trumbull

To the Editor:

The "See Something, Say Something" approach to improving our communities is not alive and well in Trumbull. High school substitute teacher Joe Rodgers' termination proves that.

Let's start with the most important issue. The controversial Facebook posts that provoked him to say something and that eventually led to his dismissal were not just political — the content was malicious, anti-government in nature and racist. More concerning, with one click of the mouse, you could be led to a thread  that actually discussed the assassination of our country’s president!

While we can all have our own opinion about what views and beliefs we should share on social media, and what makes something offensive or threatening, it should be clear to all of us that these posts crossed the line — especially for a teenager. Haven't we all read enough about malicious and threatening positions taken on social media and the possible horrors and destruction occasionally resulting from these ideologies? We simply can't ignore intolerant behavior, online or otherwise.

The mother's fervent defense of both her actions and her son's actions in spreading these messages is unfathomable. She wants you to believe this was simply a disagreement between a liberal Democrat and right wing Republican. It's much more than that.

Rodgers requested that her son take down the posts because he was genuinely concerned about the violent content and actual threats to our president — he should be concerned; we all should be!

The mother's misguided comments in The Trumbull Times Oct. 15 issue, and her sensitivity to the social media backlash and her utter surprise that it occurred, makes it clear that she feels she is the victim here. I don't think so: you chose to share that garbage on Facebook and Keep Trumbull Real.

Folks, "It Takes a Village" to raise good, responsible kids. Many adults play a vital role in this process — teachers, coaches, employers, religious leaders, neighbors, scout leaders, etc. These individuals can be the "eyes and ears" to watch over our kids because they are plugged in when we as parents are not — in the classroom, on the practice field or away on an overnight trip, etc. Apparently, this mother doesn't want this kind of help.

She so vehemently rebuffed the genuine concerns of Rodgers as to call the police claiming she was "targeted." Talk about overreach.

We must ask ourselves, does this individual have the judgment to be representing us in elected office?

Call the police? Really?

Rodgers’ firing is troubling on several fronts. For one, we have a shortage of substitutes in town. On any given day, we may not have enough substitutes to replace staff that is out.

Rodgers, a veteran with incredible life experiences to share with students is fluent in eight languages and worked 26 years for the UN as an interpreter. Former students rave about his intellect and gentle approach. He served our town for $80 per day. Is anyone getting the picture that this gentleman was an asset to our kids?

Some leaders in town don't seem to think so. Incredibly, there was no condemnation from the Herbst administration of the mother or her son for their unapologetic exhibiting of derogatory and malicious behavior, and the possible risks involved for all of us.

Rodgers was unceremoniously notified of his termination via an automated message. Superintendent Cialfi refuses to return Joe's call seeking to understand why he was let go.  oard of Education chair Deborah Herbst maintains there are "processes and protocols in place" for educators in handling disturbing posts and these were not followed in this case. I can't find, nor can anyone point me to these procedures in BOE literature. Rodgers steadfastly maintains he was never made aware of these protocols.

Furthermore, how is it that our first selectman, who banters back and forth with students on Twitter regarding school dismissals for snow, can communicate via social media; yet Rodgers, who’s using social media in trying to calmly intervene in a potentially much more serious issue than a snow day, is terminated? Does anyone see some inconsistencies here?

BOE minutes confirm that, at no time this summer, was there any discussion about Rodgers.

A BOE member indicated to me that as a substitute, concerns relating to employment status would typically be controlled at the building level with Trumbull High Principal Mark Guarino and Superintendent Cialfi making final decisions.

Was there pressure from the Herbst administration, direct or indirect, to terminate Rodgers?

It is up to everyone to decide for themselves.

However, what is clear is that by supporting the mother and terminating Rodgers, our leaders have shown very poor judgment. To stand behind an elected official promoting intolerant and violent messaging speaks volumes. The appearance is yet again, of closed ranks and circled wagons, of squashing  differing viewpoints.

Could Rodgers have handled the situation better? Probably. He certainly could have stopped the ongoing banter with the mother’s supporters online. However, in showing concerns about the Facebook content with the mother, his heart was in the right place and he "believes to his core that this was his “civic duty."

What appears clear is that this whole situation probably could have been defused and resolved with more civility and better communication — between the mother and Rodgers when the concerns were initiated; and between the appropriate town educators and Rodgers regarding how they want this handled in the future if he was to stay employed.

Better communication, and simple fairness, would also dictate that our superintendent explain a termination to an 12-year employee who requests it. Most importantly, it's clear that our Board of Education needs to adopt clear, concise guidelines regarding all staff and substitute interaction with students on social media and how to handle disturbing and threatening content. And that must be communicated to everyone — including substitutes.

To so blatantly dismiss a "See Something Say Something" ethos in town robs a community of collective thinking and action. It serves to discourage people from speaking up, and that makes us less safe!

A little more civility and thoughtfulness, in our thoughts, our actions and social media use, will help create a better Trumbull.

I encourage everyone to vote for new leadership this election season.
Timothy Owen