‘It’s not OK’: RI education commissioner decries ‘racist attacks’

Education

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A meeting about Providence schools took a turn Thursday when R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green addressed what some are describing as “racist attacks” against her.

Infante-Green’s senior adviser Victor Capellan earlier this week circulated a text message denouncing what he said were attacks from the Providence Teachers Union.

“I can no longer stand by and watch as one of our Latina leaders, a woman of color, is taken down publicly by vicious attacks, racist commentary and just overall mean spirited character assassination,” Capellan wrote. “If people disagree with the how she is doing the work, I can respect that, but the manner in which they are referring to her and demeaning her is completely unacceptable.”

He referenced the “latest attack,” a now-deleted Twitter account with the username “AnHÉLLica,” apparently mocking her first name.

“Personal attacks? On my name? My accent? It’s not OK,” Infante-Green said during a meeting of the state’s Council on Elementary and Secondary Education. “I look like the kids that we are failing. It is not OK.”

Providence NAACP Director Jim Vincent submitted testimony ahead of the meeting regarding the alleged harassment.

“It has been brought to my attention that in recent months that the Commissioner of Education, Angélica Infante-Green, has been subjected to harassment which I feel is rooted in racism,” he wrote.

Vincent said Infante-Green has been called a “carpet bagger,” a term he said has “racial overtones rooted in America’s south during the Civil War.”

He also referenced the intentional misspelling of her name, calling it unprofessional and racist.

“I am watching as the union and others around R.I. have made it their mission to take down the commissioner,” Capellan said.

He believes Infante-Green would not be subjected to this if she were a white man. The text message from the top education official was aimed at asking supporters to speak on her behalf at Thursday night’s meeting.

Infante-Green and the union have been embroiled in contentious contract negotiations since shortly after she took state control of the Providence Public Schools. The union voted no confidence in her and former Superintendent Harrison Peters months before a hiring scandal that led Peters to be pushed out of the district.

Infante-Green implied that teachers are behind the personal attacks, which include multiple anonymous Twitter accounts.

“These are the same people that teach our kids,” Infante-Green said. “That’s what’s wrong with a broken system, and yes, my name is Angélica and it has an accent on the ‘e’ and it is extremely disrespectful.”

“Name calling is not OK guys,” she continued. “I’m the first commissioner of color, don’t think that doesn’t escape everyone because it doesn’t.”

Maribeth Calabro, the teachers union president, could not immediately be reached for comment on the claims, but vice president Jeremy Aaron Sencer denounced the alleged racist attacks in a social media post.

“One of the things that offered me hope when [Infante-Green] arrived was the fact that our kids would have a model who looks like many of them,” Sencer said. “We can and do disagree on many things, but racism is unacceptable. Period.”

Infante-Green also made a detailed presentation to the council defending the state takeover, detailing progress made thus far and rebuking criticism that the teachers contract has not been reformed.

Mayor Jorge Elorza on Wednesday held his second news conference in recent weeks calling on Infante-Green to invoke the Crowley Act, the state statute she used to take over the district, to make changes to the contract.

The union has said they would sue the state if that happens.

Steph Machado contributed to this report.

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