After the Easthampton School Committee rescinded a job offer to a superintendent candidate for his use of the word “ladies” in a negotiation e-mail, hundreds hoped to get into the next board meeting to weigh in on the issue.
But the committee was forced to push off Tuesday night’s virtual-only meeting until next week after the Zoom reached its capacity.
More than 300 people tried to tune in for the committee’s discussion of the superintendent search and a possible vote to offer the job to another candidate. Many had hoped to deliver public comments to protest the committee’s decision to rescind Vito Perrone’s offer after he addressed School Committee chair Cynthia Kwiecinski and Suzanne Colby, the committee’s executive assistant, as “ladies” in an e-mail last week.
Some committee members also were initially locked out of the meeting. Attendees suggested canceling and rescheduling it, making the meeting hybrid, or moving it to an in-person meeting.
“We will have to investigate the problem with how we’re going to have a meeting, and then we’ll put an agenda together and go forward,” Kwiecinski said during Tuesday’s meeting, which lasted a little over 10 minutes. “We are going to end this and we will reschedule after we have figured out how we’re going to increase the capacity.”
Community members will get another chance to address the committee at a meeting next Monday, which also will be held via Zoom.
The agenda includes a discussion and potential vote on whether to continue negotiations with “the candidate,” which appears to reference Perrone, or possibly voting for “a candidate,” and making an offer, which could refer to a different candidate. The committee or district did not return requests for comment Thursday.
Perrone was on track to be Easthampton’s next school leader after School Committee members initially voted, 4-3, to appoint him. Perrone, interim superintendent of West Springfield Public Schools, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette he was excited to be offered a three-year contract for the position on March 24.
He entered negotiations with the Easthampton School Committee last week and planned to accept the job. Perrone said he e-mailed Kwiecinski and Colby after reviewing the district’s offer to request a few changes to the contract, including salary changes for fiscal years 2025 and 2026, some additional vacation and sick days, according to the Gazette. It was in that e-mail that he referred to Kwiecinski and Colby as ladies.
In his interview with the Gazette, Perrone said Kwiecinski later told him that addressing both women as ladies was a “microaggression,” and “the fact that he didn’t know that as an educator was a problem.” The School Committee revoked his job offer after meeting in executive session last Thursday, the Gazette reported.
Colby wrote in a public Facebook post Wednesday that she wanted people to refrain from “further defaming” her name and character for something she did not say, or have a say in. She said she wanted to make clear that she appreciates being called a lady and treated as such, adding that “the word represents respect.”
“I am not offended by the word or term, HOWEVER, I am respectful to those who may be offended by the word or term,” Colby said in the post. “Those of you who know me, know how important it is to ME to be respectful of ALL individuals.”
More than 150 people showed their support for Perrone on Monday at a rally organized by the Easthampton Education Association in front of the city’s Municipal Building. The district’s teachers union posted survey results on its Facebook page that showed various stakeholders and student leaders favored Perrone for superintendent over the other candidates. The association also called on members to write letters to the School Committee to voice support for Perrone.
State Senator John Velis, a Democrat representing Easthampton, said in a statement that the committee’s response was “over-the-top and disproportionate” if the allegations around why Perrone’s offer was rescinded are true.
“One person’s perceived microaggression is how another person was brought up to politely and respectfully speak to women,” Velis said. “If this was indeed the only issue, this was an opportunity to learn and grow as a community, not to tear down and divide.”