Three days before Election Day, Republican Board of Education candidate Andrea Preston met with Wilton residents at the Coffee Barn on Saturday, Nov. 4, to discuss comments she wrote on Facebook that some in town have deemed offensive and insensitive.
Preston said her comments were posted “well before” she became a Board of Education candidate and she is “not shy” about her political views.
Wilton resident Ken Hoffman said Preston can have her opinions, but since she is seeking “a position of authority” by running for the Board of Education, her comments have led him to question her “judgement, knowledge and intellectual reasoning.”
“I’m having trouble squaring the temperament of the posts with the temperament I would like to see from a person on the Board of Education,” said Hoffman.
Preston said the “tone and temperament” of her comments could have been different, but she stands behind the messages.
Wilton resident Peter Wrampe said he didn’t think it was fair that Preston was under so much scrutiny since her comments were posted on a “private” Facebook page.
Wilton resident Mohammed Ayoub, on the other hand, saw it differently.
“If you post something publicly,” said Ayoub, “you’re up for scrutiny if you’re running for a public position.”
In one of her Facebook posts, Preston wrote that she supports the Confederate flag “because it is a symbol of heritage.”
During the meeting at Coffee Barn, a woman named Nicole equated the Confederate flag to the swastika used by Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s, and asked Preston why she supports the flag but not swastikas.
Preston, who is originally from Florida, said removing Confederate statues and flags is an attack against Southern heritage, which should be protected.
Wilton resident Martha Outlaw, who is also from the South, questioned what Preston meant by protecting Southern heritage and asked Preston if she agreed that the Confederate flag “represents a time when people defended slavery.”
“Yes,” Preston replied, adding that the Civil War was a “fight for states’ rights” — not just over slavery, but things like “taxes” and “crops.”
The flag “means different things to different people,” she said, such as those whose ancestors fought in the Civil War.
Preston said she sees the flag “flown many places” when she visits Florida, and while she is not personally offended by it, she “can empathize with people” who are.
Peston said she doesn’t “personally fly” the Confederate flag, but doesn’t “judge” people who do.
A man who identified as a certified history teacher said the Confederate flag is “a sign of intimidation” and “represents hate.”
According to The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)’s “Whose Heritage?” report, the Confederate flag was “used extensively by the Ku Klux Klan as it waged a campaign of terror against African Americans during the civil rights movement” and “segregationists in positions of power raised it in defense of Jim Crow.”
Preston said she doesn’t think everyone who flies the Confederate flag should be labeled a racist because “you don’t know why they’re flying it.”
The history teacher said Preston is entitled to her opinion, but suggested she try to be “sympathetic to viewpoints.”
“You can fly the flag, but don’t forget what it means,” he said.
Preston said she can “see all points” and has “considered all perspectives,” but “if someone wants to fly the [Confederate] flag, that’s their prerogative.”
‘Build the wall’ chants
Hoffman expressed his concern about a post in which Preston claimed that she did not find it offensive when Wilton students chanted “build the wall” during a football game last November against Danbury — a school with a high Hispanic population.
“We don’t know why they were shouting that,” Preston said on Saturday. “It could have been a defense tactic.”
When followed up with the question of whether it was “good judgement,” Preston did not provide a direct answer.
One of Preston’s Facebook posts stated that “history textbooks today are written by people who are revisionists” and it’s up to parents to teach their children “accurate history.”
On Saturday, Preston said she believes textbooks should be “balanced” when it comes to teaching certain things like creationism versus evolutionism and climate change.
“The betterment of the district,” she said, is her priority, and ”a well-rounded curriculum supports that.”
A certified history teacher in the crowd said textbooks are changing because of new information yielded by research.
Preston argued that “some things are omitted” in textbooks and not enough is being taught about certain parts of history.
“We’re moving away from events and history. That’s what’s coming down with Common Core,” she said.
Noel Konrad said the change of focus in what students are taught is the result of new history being made.
“History keeps going on,” said Konrad.
Tolerance in schools
A former Wilton High School student who identified as a member of the LGBT community said he had a “less than stellar experience” going through the school system, particularly in the way the administration handled his complaints about bullying.
The former student asked Preston what she would do to protect all students in Wilton’s public schools — even those whose lifestyles she may not agree with.
“These things have consequences for the town,” he said.
“It is your responsibility to protect students even if you don’t agree with them. What’s your plan?”
Preston said every child should be treated equally and bullying would not be tolerated.
Preston said she thinks school administration has done “a fairly good job” dealing with the recent anti-Semitic incidents at Middlebrook School.
“The administration takes it very seriously — that’s my view as an outsider,” she said.
Preston said the school district has a tolerance policy designed to help protect students, but dialogue with the community is also crucial.
The former student suggested that Preston, if elected, encourage diversity training in the schools to “teach students to recognize proper gender pronouns” and talk about things like race in a “respectful” and “politically correct” way.
Then and now
Outlaw asked Preston if her Facebook comments still represent how she feels.
“If they do then I know what I need to know to vote,” said Outlaw.
Preston said she stands behind the messages, but “probably should have said it differently,” to which Outlaw replied, “I don’t think there’s any other way to state those things and still have my vote.”
Wilton resident and Republican registrar of voters Annalise Stravato, whose daughter is friends with Preston’s daughter, said people “need to be more tolerant and respectful of both sides.”
Stravato said the tolerance level in Wilton has gotten worse over the years and encouraged people to be tolerant and give others “the benefit of the doubt.”
“We all make mistakes,” she said.