A candidate for superintendent of a Massachusetts school district says he had his contract rescinded after he used the word “ladies” in an email – and another candidate pulled out of consideration after controversial Facebook posts about women’s sports surfaced.
Vito Perrone tells CNN that he sent an email to two women, including a committee member, asking for three changes to his contract using the word “ladies” to address them, which he was told was perceived as a “microaggression” and was “disrespectful.”
He was then informed that the Easthampton school district was rescinding its offer, he says.
“I said I apologize if I offended anyone with my term of ‘ladies,’” he said, adding he had always believed “ladies and gentlemen was a term of respect.”
Cynthia Kwiecinski, one of the two women who received the email, said in a statement that there were “too many concerns before we had even begun negotiating the rest of the contract.
“Alarm bells were going off,” she said.
In the statement, she said she was “insulted by the familiarity with which the candidate addressed me” and the committee’s executive assistant over the salary negotiation.
Perrone denied any negotiations were taking place.
“They were just requests,” he told CNN, in part for a cost-of-living increase in later years and time-off adjustments.
“If we had the opportunity to negotiate, maybe we could’ve gotten past that,” he said. “People talk about a teachable moment in the classroom. Could that have been a teachable moment?”
Perrone is “distraught,” he says. Landing a position in the district would be like “coming home” for him since he worked in one of the district’s schools for six years.
“The fact that I might not be able to work there now is heartbreaking,” he said. “It was a very difficult thing to hear because I said ‘ladies’ in an email,” adding he wanted to set the record straight because he didn’t want the community to think it was about money or a failed negotiation.
Perrone has received support from some residents, with supporters rallying outside the school with signs of support, CNN affiliate Western Mass News reported.
CNN has contacted the school and Kwiecinski for comment.
Suzanne Colby, the other individual referred to in the email, has since said on social media, “I am a Lady. I appreciate being called such and I appreciate being treated as such. To me, the word represents respect.”
Colby is listed as an executive and school committee assistant by Easthampton Public Schools.
“I am not offended by the word,” she continued. “However, I am respectful to those who may be offended by the word or term. Those of you who know me, know how important it is to me to be respectful of all individuals.”
Another candidate withdraws application, newspaper reports
After the board rescinded Perrone’s offer, its members moved onto another candidate.
But the Easthampton’s mayor’s office then received concerns about that candidate’s appointment from a member of the high school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club, according to an email exchange provided by the mayor’s office as part of an open records request made by the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
The posts from that candidate, Erica Faginski-Stark, were described as “conservative transphobic rhetoric a multitude of times,” according to the email from the student, whose name was redacted.
According to a copy of the Facebook posts provided by the student, Faginski-Stark posted a link to a video on January 23, 2021, with the following commentary: “For EVERY female athlete out there, it’s time to speak up. As a former Div. 1 scholarship athlete and academic & athletic ALL American, our young women just got stripped of their equal rights and equal opportunity yesterday.”
It’s unclear what she is referring to – but days before, President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, which in part said, “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”
In March of that year, a post from the account with her name advocates the signing of a petition that will defend Title IX, adding, “Ladies, the glass ceiling is more real now than it’s been in generations,” the screenshot of the post states. “Our choice to use our voice or to remain silent will determine not only the future of women’s athletics but equality for women everywhere. It’s time to speak up,” the post said, according to copies provided as part of the open records request.
The Facebook page is not available to be viewed and appears to have been removed.
In the email, the unnamed student said, “With the recent anti trans picketing, many youth in the school are concerned and angry.”
Faginski-Stark subsequently withdrew her application. CNN has contacted her to seek comment.
Meanwhile, the school continues to search for a superintendent. The search is expected to be discussed at a school committee hearing on April 25.
CNN’s Zenebou Sylla contributed to this report.