On January 17th and 18th, parents, staff members, and community group leaders participated in Darien Board of Education (BOE) Communications Committee focus groups.
As previously reported, the meetings were facilitated by the partisan and controversial group, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), where Darien BOE Chairperson Jill McCammon is listed as an Area 6 CABE Director.
CABE Executive Director and General Counsel Patrice McCarthy moderated the sessions.
Her final report will be circulated with the Administration and the BOE, but it's unclear if the public at large, or even focus group participants, will be able to see the results.
According to multiple participants, Ms. McCarthy appeared to act professionally, taking notes occasionally during conversations.
The parental rights group Darien Parents, however, is skeptical over Ms. McCarthy's ability to offer a fair and balanced opinion, and cited her past panel participation, lobbying efforts, and public statements as the reasons for their concern.
For instance, in October 2023, Ms. McCarthy participated on the Pantalena Law Library's drag story time panel "in honor of banned books week" at Quinnipiac University. Ms. McCarthy is wearing the blue blazer, and is seated to the right of two panelists dressed in drag.
Ms. McCarthy appears to be a strong proponent of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and social emotional learning (SEL), and has even spent time in Washington, D.C., lobbying Congress on these issues. She has also attended the National School Boards Association's annual Equity Symposium, and works with Marc Brackett at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Mr. Brackett created the RULER program which is used extensively in Darien Public Schools.
Additionally, Ms. McCarthy hosted an April 2023 Zoom webinar titled, "As Book Bans Escalate, Here’s What You Need to Know."
During her opening remarks (3:41), she states after describing "book banning" efforts across states:
"This is clearly having a chilling effect as reported by many librarians and they are actually cutting their purchases because of concern about the level of scrutiny that any purchase will be given."- Patrice McCarthy
"Given the controversies in Darien Public Schools around inappropriate curriculum and school library content along with concerns around the role of SEL and DEI-based curriculum, why would the BOE Communications Committee enlist a moderator who may have a potential bias in her views?" wondered Darien Parents.
"Ms. McCarthy is a strong proponent of many of these contentious topics. Why did the BOE Communication Committee not seek a more neutral person to complete this important task?" the Parents wondered.
The Centinal reached out to the Darien Board of Education for comment, and will update this article should we receive a response.