Year in Review: Schools at the center of news in 2018
WESTPORT — Schools are always at the heart of the Westport community, but in 2018, town’s education system dominated the news even more than ever.
From the closure of Coleytown Middle School in September to a threatened mass shooting at Staples High School in February, Westport’s schools faced massive challenges.
Another prominent story featured a new voice: Democrat Will Haskell, who defeated 22 year incumbent Republican Toni Boucher for the 26th state senate district in a historic victory. Other top stories were typical to Westport, however, involving battles over town infrastructure projects — think beach bathrooms and the North Avenue water tanks.
As 2019 dawns, here’s a look back at the best and biggest stories of 2018:
Coleytown closes due to mold, board approves K-6 model
After a two-year saga fighting mold strung along while students remained in class, Coleytown Middle School closed in September after parents cried of concern for students health.
Coleytown students relocated to Bedford Middle School and Staples High School for what at first appeared a temporary fix, but further study showed Coleytown cannot be remediated this year. Students were told to remain in their relocated schools for the remainder of the year.
The Board of Education set up a community advisory committee to assess the options for Coleytown’s students next year. After narrowing the options, the board voted this months on a K-6 model in which all of town’s sixth graders will remain in the elementary schools while the seventh and eighth graders will all be taught at Bedford for the 2019-20 school year.
Election 2018: Haskell defeats Boucher in historic victory for Democrats
In a historic victory, 22-year-old Will Haskell defeated a 22-year veteran of the state Legislature, Toni Boucher, turning the 26th Senate District blue for the first time since 1973.
Motivated to fight back against President Donald Trump’s agenda, Haskell, a Staples High School alumni who graduated from Georgetown University in May, launched an insurgent campaign fueled by energized Democrats and visions of a millennial-friendly state with modernized infrastructure and progressive social policies.
A formidable incumbent, Boucher won the 26th district by sizable margins in the last several elections, but voters in Westport and across Fairfield County amassed in a blue wave this year that powered Democratic victories.
P&Z, state approves medical marijuana facility, despite pushback from parents
After a marathon series of public hearings, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved one medical marijuana dispensary application and rejected four others in June, despite pushback from some town parents who don’t think a medical marijuana shop will be good for Westport kids.
The approved applicant, Bluepoint Wellness of Westport, received a state license this month, making it past the last hurdle toward setting up a shop at 1460 Post Road East, which Bluepoint hopes to open sometime in the coming months.
Student threatened mass shooting at Staples High School
A week after the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., a Westport teen threatened a mass shooting at Staples High School. However, the plan was thwarted by a fellow student who overheard the threat and reported it to school officials.
Administrators notified the police and put the school on lockdown. Police found a trove of guns owned by the student’s father at the family’s home and took the student into custody.
Group says school administrators failed to act on reported sexual assaults
A group of Staples High School students spoke out at a Board of Education meeting in January saying school administrators failed to act after they reported sexual assaults.
The girls, who all reported the same boy for sexual assault, said their cases were incorrectly labeled by administrators as harassment, as opposed to assault. Their voices launched a broader conversation about the culture surrounding sexual assault and how it’s handled at Westport schools.
Town rejects funding for police officers in schools
A nearly yearlong effort on behalf of Superintendent Colleen Palmer to fund two police officers for Westport’s middle schools came to a close in October, after the Representative Town Meeting voted to reject funding for the request.
The appropriation request, which Palmer and the Board of Education pursued with fervor following the shooting in Parkland, was rejected by the Board of Finance before going to the town meeting.
Restaurant with racially insensitive drink closes
A restaurant that made headlines this summer for selling an offensive cocktail closed suddenly in December, after their landlord said they failed to pay rent.
In August, the restaurant 323 Main Street came under fire for listing a cocktail called “The Tuskegee Experiment” on its menu. The name Tuskegee Experiment refers to the U.S. government’s 40-year medical experiment that left hundreds of African-American men with syphilis untreated, so scientists could study the progression of the disease. The study began in 1932 in collaboration with Tuskegee University, a historically black college in Alabama.
After the incident, 323’s owners denied ever having the cocktail on the menu, and musicians and customers boycotted the restaurant for lack of a proper apology.
Community rallies to reopen Black Duck after sudden closure
The Black Duck, a historic Westport bar, rose from near death in November just a few days after announcing the 40-year-old riverfront restaurant would close for financial reasons.
After announcing the closure, Duck patrons donated to a GoFundMe account to resuscitate the establishment and flocked to the bar to mourn its closure. Meanwhile, the bar’s owners spoke with its creditors, its landlord, and investors and said it secured a financial package which will allow the Duck to remain in operation for years to come.
Disability accessible bathrooms approved for South Beach
The Representative Town meeting approved $840,000 to fund an ADA-compliant restroom facility on Compo’s South Beach in November after months of protest from pickleball players, who initially said the new bathroom will block their view of the beach.
The Parks and Recreation’s bathroom proposal earned acclaim from disability rights advocates and others who said a proper bathroom is needed on South Beach, and criticism from some Westporters who opposed the building’s size, location and cost.
Matsu Sushi refuses to reinstate unfairly fired workers
A judge ordered two chefs fired from Matsu Sushi for refusing to complete a 36-hour shift be reinstated immediately, but the restaurant’s owners have yet to renew the workers’ employment.
The chefs said they were fired from the downtown sushi hub after being asked to work unlawfully long hours to fill an order for Bridgewater Associates, and also complained of unpaid minimum wage and overtime wages.
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