A Connecticut school board member was slugged in the face by an angry parent Tuesday night during a debate on the future of Glastonbury High School’s Native American-inspired mascot.
The dust-up between the parent, Mark Finocchiaro, and board secretary Ray McFall, took place during a 10-minute recess after tempers flared amid a public comment period about the Glastonbury Tomahawks name, which was changed last year to the Glastonbury Guardians. The school’s team logos were also switched from a tomahawk, which many found offensive, to a knight’s helmet.
A committee was formed to consider changing the Tomahawks name and logo in the wake of nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer. The choice was all-but solidified when the National Congress of American Indians subsequently contacted the board and asked that the tomahawk logo and mascot be phased out.
Because of pandemic restrictions at the time, the Glastonbury school board was convening only online, and accepting opinions from the community via the internet. A petition started by Glastonbury residents argued that the process denied them an “opportunity to provide meaningful input,” and demanded that the school’s tomahawk logo and mascot be restored. On Tuesday evening, the board held a special meeting to discuss the issue in-person.
Cellphone video recorded by bystanders at Tuesday’s session showed Finocchiaro, 53, confront the 57-year-old McFall, standing nose-to-nose with the former Marine Corps officer. When McFall gently pushed Finocchiaro away, Finocchiaro responded by punching McFall, who immediately dropped to the floor.
McFall was able to get back up on his own and did not appear to be seriously injured.
Glastonbury Town Councilman John Cavanna was at the meeting, and stepped in to break up the altercation.
“I was up near the stage area when I heard voices get raised, and I turned to make my way over there,” Cavanna, who is also a sergeant with the Hartford Police Department, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “Folks in the audience know me as the type of guy that will maintain order. So people started yelling my name, and I turned to see Mr. McFall, who had apparently gone off to confront the other gentleman.”
Before Cavanna could step in, he said he saw McFall “pushing the parent,” after which “the parent struck him.”
Cavanna, a 17-year police veteran, said he was wholly disheartened by the fracas, adding, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they arrest both, and it will be for a judge to decide what transpired.”
“Honestly, at the end of the day, it’s just sad that something like that had to take place,” Cavanna said. “To see it get to the point where folks are physically going after each other is just sad. We’re never going to get anything accomplished if we don’t work together.”
Lt. Mark Davis of the Glastonbury Police told The Daily Beast that the department is “investigating the altercation.”
“No charges have been filed yet, but our investigation is ongoing at this point,” he said.
Finocchiaro’s niece, Miranda Beach—who was there and filmed the attack—told The Daily Beast that the family has been instructed not to say anything about the confrontation “because we’re in contact with lawyers and the police. He doesn’t want to say anything until we get that all figured out.”
McFall did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
In a statement provided to The Daily Beast by the Glastonbury Public Schools Board, Superintendent Alan Bookman said the board was forced to adjourn the meeting “without voting on the matter.”
“The Board of Education welcomes public comment and appreciates that there will always be passionate testimony when controversial issues are considered,” the statement said. “But it is critical that we listen to each other with respect and follow meeting rules so that everyone can be heard.”
Bookman’s assistant told The Daily Beast that he is unable to comment on the incident at this time “because it is a police matter.”
Once the school board decided to change the Tomahawks name and logo last year, they issued a call for ideas from students and faculty. Glastonbury High School senior Prasham Vachhani designed the logo—a knight’s helmet—that was ultimately used for the new Glastonbury Guardians.
“I thought of it as a particular character in my head,” Vachhani, 18, told the Hartford Courant in March. “This guardian does not back out of stuff, and that’s what we represent—we don’t back out, we don’t quit.”
Some were upset by the change, and Glastonbury High senior Erin Cabana started a petition last year to keep the Tomahawks name.
“The Glastonbury High School Tomahawks must stay,” she wrote. “While I understand its tie to the Native Americans, in today’s day and age, tomahawks are a tool that people everywhere use. In fact there are even tomahawk throwing competitions. It is simply an axe type weapon/tool that was invented by the Native Americans. It’s not like Glastonbury is ‘stealing their tool’ or ‘making fun of it’ when it’s something you can find at any local hardware store and it has proven to be a very helpful tool. There’s no Native American in the logo either, it’s just an axe like graphic. What is offensive about an axe?”
Numerous Connecticut high schools have abandoned Native American-inspired names and mascots in recent years. In 1996, Newtown High School became the first in the state to update its name from the Indians to the Nighthawks. In 2015, Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford changed its name from the Indians to the Lions.
“This was not done for any political correctness, this was done because in our time and in our history it was the right time to do it,” Northwest Catholic administrator David Eustis said at the time. “It wasn’t about being first. It was about doing what is right for our 600 kids.”
Last April, the Newington High School Indians became the Nor’Easters. A month later, Farmington High School ditched its own Indians name and logo in favor of the River Hawks. On the other hand, Killingly Public Schools in January 2020 reverted back to their old name and mascot, the Redmen, in the face of widespread community opposition.
The issue is not going away anytime soon. In February, the West Hartford Public Schools board will take a vote about whether or not to change the names of the Conard High Chieftains and the Hall High School Warriors.
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