Danbury mayor requests formal apology from Wilton chanters

At least two Wilton High School students are said to have chanted “build the wall” during a football game against Danbury at Fujitani Field on Friday, Nov. 11, and the mayor of Danbury wants an apology.

On Thursday, Nov. 17, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton tweeted that the Danbury High School student body nor the City of Danbury had “received an official apology from the students involved.”

Wilton Superintendent Kevin Smith apologized on behalf of the Wilton school community on Wednesday, Nov. 16, but Boughton is seeking an apology from the students who chanted.

“A generic letter or some type of symbol of unity would be the right thing to do,” Boughton said in another tweet.

In a Nov. 17 letter to families, Wilton High School Principal Robert O’Donnell said he spoke with Danbury High School Principal Daniel Donovan earlier in the week “to express that this act is not representative of our student body.”

Superintendent Kevin Smith has also been in contact with Danbury Superintendent Sal Pascarella, according to O’Donnell, and Athletic Director Chris McDougal with Danbury High School Athletic Director Chip Salvestrini.

O’Donnell said an apology will be delivered “from our school community to theirs,” but did not say whether or not it would come from the student chanters.

Late Thursday afternoon, Boughton called for a formal apology in an official letter to O'Donnell.

"My office has received several calls, as well as notifications through social media describing the pain that those comments have caused," Boughton wrote.

Boughton thanked O'Donnell for "taking this issue very seriously," acknowledging that the incident "is not representative of the majority of [the Wilton] student body."

"In an email, that you sent to your community, which was shared by the media, you describe how you will begin to talk with those students who have been identified as participants and use this situation as a 'teachable moment,'" Boughton continued.

"As a former teacher, I would suggest that the crux of this teachable moment should be an apology to our students, and our community, for the hurt that has been caused."

"Part of becoming a citizen and engaging member of our community," Boughton wrote, "is knowing how and when to communicate our beliefs, whether they be political or otherwise."

He said civic responsibility is important and "part of that responsibility is accountability for our actions."

"Therefore," Boughton concluded, "I respectfully request a formal apology to our student body and to our community at large."

Systematic approach

O'Donnell said Wilton High School is taking a "systematic approach" to address what happened at the football game.

Wilton High School faculty members met Wednesday afternoon to discuss post-election challenges, how to support the students and school community, and measures they will take “to ensure a safe and supportive school setting for all members of our community,” said O’Donnell.

Earlier that day, O’Donnell addressed the entire Wilton High School student body and faculty during advisory period.

“I focused our school on the message that our words and actions are important and that it is not merely the intent of these words and actions,” O’Donnell said, “but their potential impact on others that is paramount.”

In his message to the school, O’Donnell said the days following the presidential election have not only been “challenging for some” and “celebratory for others,” but have also “led to some discord in our school and the broader community around our divergent and sometimes conflicting ideologies.”

“While we may hold differing views on politics and society, we all share a responsibility to ensure that each member of the school community is valued, respected, and supported,” O’Donnell said.

“Further, we must conduct ourselves in a manner that echoes this level of respect beyond the school walls to members of society with whom we interact.”

O’Donnell said recognizing that “we are different, yet equal in the scope of humanity” makes Wilton a stronger community.

He also said speech that “marginalizes any members of your school community or compromises our vision to promote leadership, integrity, scholarship and empathy” cannot and will not be accepted or tolerated.

O’Donnell asked students to “recognize that in every interaction and experience, your words and actions matter in this school community and beyond” and “understand that it is not only the intent of these words and actions that matter, it is also the impact on other members of the community.”

“We expect you to speak up when you see or hear something that denigrates any member of the school community,” he told the student body.

“As Wilton Warriors, you represent yourselves, your families, our school, and our Wilton community.”

O’Donnell’s message was followed by an instructional task to promote productive, guided discourse pertaining to inclusion, empathy and civility, during which teachers and students worked to understand the potential impact of words and their meanings.

They also discussed how to express views in “a civil and productive manner, by respectfully and actively listening to other’s viewpoints and, when necessary, resolve differences and conflicts of opinion,” according to O’Donnell.

“We have a shared expectation that staff and students will speak up when they see or hear something that denigrates any member of the school community,” said O’Donnell.

“When students interrupt biased language, calmly ask questions, correct misinformation and echo others who do the same, they send their peers a clear message: This kind of language doesn’t fly here.”

As part of Wilton High School’s approach to address the issue, said O’Donnell, psychologist, performer and poet Michael Fowlin is scheduled to share his “You Don't Know Me Until You Know Me” presentation with the entire school next month.

“Dr. Fowlin’s mission is to create an atmosphere of worldwide inclusion — not just tolerance — towards all people,” said O’Donnell.

In his presentation, O’Donnell said, Fowlin “takes the audience on an experiential journey, having them re-examine core precepts that were taught to us from as early on as first grade.”

Using humor, performance art, poetry, storytelling, psychology, theatrical monologues, and his own personal journey, Fowlin creates “a moving experience for all who are open to this evolution,” said O’Donnell.

Since the election, O’Donnell said, Wilton High School’s “collective focus … has been on educating our students and helping them make sense of these times.”

Although it has “a talented administration and faculty, who are fully capable of leading and guiding us through this time period,” and “outstanding, supportive parents and community members,” said O’Donnell, “our school community will need the further support and understanding of the Wilton community as we go forward together.”

“As a public school,” he said, “we know our mission includes fostering civil discourse in a safe and respectful space.”

On Thursday, Nov. 17, Wilton High School Student Government Executive President Jackson Walker and Executive Vice-President Brooke Amodei wrote a letter addressing what happened at Friday night's football game.