The Christina School Board Unanimously voted to censure board member Fred Polaski over controversial comments he made last Tuesday at a study session dealing with educational issues in Wilmington.
VIDEO: Christina School Board member Fred Polaski receives criticism, then defends comments he made a week prior over education in Wilmington
During the February 4, 2020, meeting, Polaski spoke about various situations where students were struggling, including one where a student has no books, “so when you put that into where the parent who fills out the information form – and she, single parent, lists her job as ‘prostitute’ – so those are the kinds of things that I think need to be looked at.”
Those comments, and more that were first reported by WDEL earlier in the day Tuesday, forced a vote on a censure resolution to be hastily added to the Christina School Board’s agenda for their regular monthly meeting.
Each member of the school board, along with a handful of speakers during public comment, took turns denouncing Polaski’s words.
One of them was Mary Pieri, a teacher in the district.
“You victimized, and already marginalized, and neglected a portion of the Christina School District population. It’s time we call a thing a thing, and what you said was racist and demeaning to a large portion of our Christina family. These are reprehensible, and I hope you are willing to take full responsibility for your words and actions. It’s time to raise the bar.”
Before the board voted to censure him, Polaski took another opportunity to explain his comments.
“Parts of last week’s board meeting on February 4 about the factors that interfere with the education of children were taken as being racist. I apologize for not making myself clear, they were not about race. My comments were made in the context of discussions about changing the school district boundaries in the city of Wilmington. I fully support the initiative to improve the educational opportunities for students in the city of Wilmington as a first step in improving education for all students in Delaware.
Improving education in Wilmington has been the initial purpose because of the problems of educating children who live in Wilmington, often in areas of high poverty. My comments were about conditions that I believe need to be addressed, if all children are to receive a quality education. They’re not about children of any particular race.
I’m sure that everyone understands that the education of children is influenced by many factors outside the classroom. Education of children should begin at an early age, before the children attend kindergarten. Education of children at schools in Christina and all the other schools in Delaware and the United States is often challenged by the home environment in which children live. For children to receive a good education and prepare them for further education and successful employment, the children need support from those around them.
But that does not occur, and all the information I’ve received from those at schools in the city, from community leaders, and from parents and grandparents is that there are students in Christina and other schools who receive no support outside of the schools for their education. The result is failed education.
Those situations need intervention to support those students, what that is, I’m not an expert to provide the correct answer, but I am sure there are many interventions that could be successful. The problem as I see it, is that whatever those interventions are, they’re not being implemented anywhere nearly to the extent needed.
I mentioned one possible intervention for children who have no home would be group homes or some sort of institutional setting that would provide the support those children need. That may be drastic, but for some children, drastic actions may be the only actions that work."
I recognize some of those things that resulted in significant negative reaction, but I also received communication that my comments identified the real challenges to education. My hope is that the result of these comments that weren’t intended to cause the reaction they have, is that the community can use this as a starting point to develop solutions that these children experience, and our focus should be 100% on what is best for the children.”
Pieri went one step further.
“Mr. Polaski, do you firmly believe people in poverty are not doing what they think they should be doing because they don’t want to? Or could be it that the racial and structural barriers placed around people of color for centuries have specifically denied them the many opportunities that you and I take for granted? Your comments lead me to believe that you actually think people actually choose to live this way. As an elected leader on our school board, I find that disturbing. Mr. Polaski, I find your response to the media to be unacceptable. In your comments, you take no responsibility--mind you I wrote this before we came and I still don’t think you took responsibility--for the actual contents of the comments. Instead, you apologized for the way the comments were received by others. That right there shows you have little understanding of how hurtful and racist your comments are. Your comments are rooted in white supremacy culture, and my union, the National Education Association, in Resolution I-50 clearly states 'we must acknowledge the existence of white supremacy culture as a primary root of instructional racism.'"
Several school board members defended their immediate inaction to what they described as not fully paying attention as Polaski made his comments last week, including School Board President Dr. Meredith Griffin.
“Mr. Polaski begins to make his comments, within that time, as we had been sitting for quite some time, board members began to excuse themselves from the table and some went to the restroom or other things at various times, and I was one of them. I did not hear all of Mr. Polaski’s comments. I left the room, and came back near the end of his comments, but I did hear one or two of his comments. Sadly, also, in my role as chair of that meeting and this board that convenes in that moment, I was doing other things. I was looking at what was coming next and not really paying attention to the comments that Mr. Polaski was making, and for that, I apologize. It’s my role--as a board member--to be attentive in the moment of a meeting, and I did not do that then. As I left the meeting and went home that evening, I was not aware of the breadth of the comments Mr. Polaski made, until I received a phone call the next day--alerting me of all of what was said, and that the audio would be made available later. After listening to the audio, I personally--and I shared these words with Mr. Polaski--I was offended by the comments. I was offended as someone who grew up in the city of Wilmington. While not growing up in a household of poverty, I have people close to me who did. I absolutely know that his comments do not reflect any household that I’m aware of. Definitely not mine, or any of my friends who grew up in an impoverished environment in Wilmington. I thought the comments were insensitive, classless at best, but I’m not going to call Fred Polaski a racist. I don’t believe his comments were intended to be so, but I do believe his comments highlight some blind spots that members of our community and country have to systemic issues.”
Following the censure vote, Polaski remained active during the rest of Tuesday’s meeting, including participating in a discussion over a pending referendum in the district.