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WESTMINSTER — The chairwoman of the Bellows Falls Union High School board walked out of a talk about bigotry in the schools and business community Wednesday night.

Chairwoman Molly Banik only returned after Curtiss Reed Jr. , the executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, finished his presentation, “Bigotry is Bad for Business,” to board members of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union and the public.

Banik, who is store manager of the LaValley Building Supplies in Walpole, N.H., and was wearing a company sweatshirt during the meeting, said she objected to Reed’s criticism of the lack of businesses’ response to recent racist incidents at high school sporting events in Northern Vermont, as well as his claim that schools were teaching “whitewashed” history.

Reed said businesses have not done all they can to condemn the recent racist and sexist treatment of high school athletes at sporting events.

Reed, who said he is making similar presentations all over the state, said it is imperative that school leaders and the business community address all forms of bigotry to ensure a healthy economy in Vermont’s future, which will be much more diverse than it is now, he said.

Reed’s presentation came at the beginning of the meeting under “public comments,” and he said his presentation would take 20 minutes.

Banik said she didn’t understand his claim of “whitewashed history.” She mentioned that she is the manager of a large business, which she said she ran as if she owned it. And Banik said his criticism of business was “a pretty broad thing to say.”

“Excuse me, I’m done,” she said.

As Reed continued to talk, she picked up her things and left the meeting room. No one said anything.

Supervisory union Chairwoman Jessa Westclark said after the meeting that Reed had asked to speak to the four-town board.

Westclark declined to comment on Banik’s actions. “These conversations are supposed to be uncomfortable,” she told the board.

The Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity reached out, asking for the opportunity to present an awareness campaign called “Bigotry is Bad For Business,” Westclark said.

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”I can’t, and shouldn’t, speak for Molly. I personally feel that these conversations are supposed to be uncomfortable to trigger personal introspection. Challenging existing thinking can be very difficult, and when we don’t know a person’s experience, I wouldn’t want to judge their reaction to it,” Westclark said after the meeting via email.

”I was hoping Curtiss Reed had a more formal presentation. I’m told he has done some diversity training for the district before,” she said.

Director Jack Bryar of Grafton, chairman of the Windham Northeast Unified Elementary School District board, was the only other school director to engage Reed directly, also taking issue with Reed’s comment that “whitewashed” history is being taught.

Bryar said that just isn’t the case, and he challenged Reed to sit in on a social studies class at the high school.

”The whole thing was awkward,” Bryar said after the meeting. “And unfortunate, because there is an important discussion that needs to be had about what we can do as schools and as a community to be more welcoming to visible minorities, and to fight bigotry and antisocial, yahoo behavior.”

Bryar said he has tried and been frustrated “by the reluctance of my friends of color to even consider moving to Vermont. I want to have this conversation. But this was not a productive start. Hopefully, we can do better going forward. I don’t like anyone walking out. Public comments should always be heard,” he said.

After a meeting dealing with everything from substitutes’ pay (they increased it) to the restraint policy in dealing with out-of-control students, the meeting opened up to board member comments.

Director Brenda Farkas said she is uncomfortable with “destroying our diversity with our equity,” and she said she didn’t like Reed using the word “knucklehead,” saying it triggered something in her.

Reed, reached Thursday, said he made a similar presentation to the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union and was “cordially” received. He said he is starting in Windham County schools with the business message because “it’s the gateway to Vermont.”

He said he was surprised by Banik walking out, which he said was “a rather dramatic flare, an indication of her not wanting to hear. It’s difficult to have your worldview challenged,” he said. “She doesn’t want to hear it, and that’s fine. But nothing changes unless there is dialogue.”

Banik didn’t respond to messages seeking comment after the meeting.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.