GLASTONBURY, Conn. — A fractious public meeting of the Glastonbury Board of Education was ended early on Tuesday night after heated words turned into physical violence, with a resident who came to speak coming to blows with a member of the board during a recess in the meeting. That altercation is now under police investigation.
The Glastonbury Board of Education was holding a special hearing to discuss a petition asking the board to reverse its decision to replace the Tomahawk mascot.
"The processes to be reviewed and the whole issue needs to be reviewed before the Guardians become a permanent logo or symbol or mascot for our town," said a Glastonbury resident during public comment.
"I commend you for your actions and I ask everyone to please move on, let’s support our students, let’s educate them the best we possibly can, and let’s treat everyone with the respect that they deserve," said another Glastonbury resident.
Of the nearly 40 residents that spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, only one got into a contentious back and forth with the board members.
A board member told resident Mark Finocchiaro "your time is up" to which he responded, "This is the history of our town," referring to the Tomahawks name.
The Board member shot back, "You're not paying attention."
"You're not paying attention, but they are," said an angry Finocchiaro, pointing to the audience, before dropping an expletive.
That ended the public comments.
During a recess, when the Board was supposed to be voting on the request to restore the Tomahawks name, those in attendance said Board member Ray McFall came off the stage to confront Finocchiaro.
The entire incident was recorded on a cell phone, showing the two men, face-to-face, with Finocchiaro yelling directly into the board member's face.
On a cell phone video provided to FOX61, by Miranda Beach, a resident can be heard saying to McFall, "That's unprofessional, why are you swearing at a citizen?"
Then, Finocchiaro said to McFall, "You're in my face?"
"Yeah, I'm in your face," McFall responded.
When Finocchiaro gets even closer, McFall pushes Finocchiaro away into the auditorium seats. Then Finocchiaro punches McFall in the face, knocking him off his feet.
After the punch was thrown, the crowd separated the two, and McFall was brought back onto the auditorium stage.
That was when the superintendent announced the meeting would end because of the fight. Moments later, everyone was asked to leave and the police showed up.
"I was there just to watch and I didn’t know I would end up being involved in separating an argument or a physical fight," said Glastonbury Town Councilman John Cavanna, who is also a police officer.
Cavanna said he could sense tension among the audience from the beginning of the meeting.
"They’re upset about the mascot, but they were much more upset about the manner in which the Board of Education went about removing it," Cavanna said.
Finocchiaro was one of several residents who expressed their opinions on why they disagreed with the board removing "the Tomahawks" as the mascot and logo for the school.
The decision to phase out the mascot came over a year ago in August 2020, when all meetings were virtual, which made the public feel like they could not be properly heard.
The board said it was offensive but many residents said it’s a part of the town’s history.
"I would like to see us put a formal letter together to both of our federally recognized tribes and reach out to any actual Native Americans that live here in Glastonbury for their opinions," said Glastonbury BOE member Jenn Jennings.
And, she said, if they say they are not ok with the Tomahawks name, then respect that decision.
"And the question is what can we do as a town to bring Native American studies into our schools," she queried.
A petition filed by residents of Glastonbury stated that the board did not give residents an "opportunity to provide meaningful input" before the decision was made. Enough people signed the petition to force the board to hold another hearing on the topic.
The Board of Education ended the meeting with no decision on the mascot, and no word on when the next meeting will be.
"Sadly, last night we didn’t hold the bar as high as we should have," Cavanna said.
One resident, who says his kids are Glastonbury High School graduates, does not understand how the meeting went so wrong.
"To be fighting about a Tomahawk or Guardian we have just got to come to a mutual agreement and it just seems a little bit over the edge," said Patrick Defrancesco.
Another resident said he was disappointed a BOE member would push someone.
"That being said, punching a school board member, it’s just wrong and it’s foolish and does nothing to advance anybody’s cause," said Dave Zevin, whose two sons were once Tomahawks football players.
Finocchiaro was not at his South Glastonbury barber shop when FOX61 visited around midday Tuesday. And his wife said he was not at home when our crew stopped by.
McFall did not respond to FOX61's request for comment.
Superintendent Dr. Alan Bookman said in a statement Wednesday morning that while the board welcomes and appreciates passionate testimony when controversial issues are considered, it is "critical that we listen to each other with respect and follow meeting rules so that everyone can be heard."
Police said they are actively investigating the incident and no arrests have been made.
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