By: Cassandra Day via The MiddleTown Press
MIDDLETOWN — About 25 people gathered at the now closed Connecticut Juvenile Training School on River Road to protest against any school being located at the site of the former state-run prison for boys, calling for the building to be knocked down.
The facility was closed in 2018.
The issue came to light when Capital Preparatory Middletown Charter School submitted an application to the State Board of Education to locate a proposed facility either at CJTS or a swath of forested land between Shiloh Baptist and Cross Street AME Zion churches on West Street.
“Bulldoze CJTS. All Black and brown students in Middletown deserve schools they can be proud of,” said Ayanna McKennon, Middletown Racial Justice Coalition Steering Committee chairwoman, adding that there should also be transparency and inclusion.
The coalition is “united in strong opposition” to placing a school at the facility, McKennon said.“For many young Black children, this building was a place of abuse and long-term individual and community trauma,” she told those gathered.
Despite the Middletown charter school group saying it no longer would consider CJTS as a possible location, McKennon said, “this ‘turnkey site’ is still proposed in the application. Middletown should not be known for reopening prisons and learning spaces for Black children.
“Enough is enough,” Muzzanni said. “While Capital Prep says that they are rescinding their application to put a school in the former prison, and we’re calling on the State Board of Education to reject their proposal outright, to even suggest that young people be educated in a prison is reprehensible,” she said.
The locations discussed in the Capitol Prep charter school application are only proposals, CSDE Director of Communications Eric Scoville said Tuesday afternoon. “Consequently, if Capitol Prep Middletown is granted an initial certificate of approval, it could ultimately decide upon a different location.”
Muzzanni said she believes Gov. Ned Lamont should invest in “real public safety, which includes housing, health care, education, jobs, and more.”
Fencing with barbed wire still remains on the grounds. “It has all the markings of a model of a prison,” said 25-year state Department of Children and Families employee and Common Councilman Darnell Ford.
It is not something “that I see helps children,” Ford said. “It’s unfortunate it clarified the pipeline to the juvenile system.”
He has no doubt that health care workers at CJTS “did their best trying to deal with what they had, but, the bottom line is, when you walk in, there are fences, a sally port (security area), locked doors. It is exactly like prison,” Ford said.
Anyone who works with children understands what the facility was designed for, he added. “It is not a place that children should reside, it’s not a place where children grow, have the ability to have an education and experience of a quality and healthy life,” Ford said.
About halfway through the rally, two city police officers arrived on site. After organizers explained why they were there, an officer allowed the event to continue.
Minutes later, four state police cruisers entered the CJTS parking lot to investigate what was happening and remained until the event’s conclusion.
Makenzi Hurtado, vice president of the state Vocational Federation of Teachers, spoke on behalf of teachers at Vinal Technical High School in Middletown, saying they are demanding that CJTS be demolished. Members also are asking for the State Board of Education to reject the charter school application.
She, and others at the rally, said state resources should go to the technical school rather than a charter school.
“Even suggesting that a youth prison could be used as a school is a disgrace,” Hurtado said. “This building needs to be demolished so that the trauma it has caused children and this community can be demolished forever.”
Middletown High School graduate and parent Diana Martinez said she hopes the rally’s message will get to the CSDE.
“I’m gathered alongside other parents, educators and organizers who have not had a fair opportunity to be heard, to access information, or to be represented in this process,” she said.
“Look around,” Martinez said. “This is a prison situated on a hill directly alongside youth and adult psychiatric and drug treatment facilities.”
Although the charter school group said Friday it no longer is looking at the site, and now is pursuing the land between Shiloh Baptist and Cross Street AME Zion churches on West Street, Martinez said its application will be considered Wednesday morning at the state board meeting.
Capital Prepatory Harbor School Executive Director of Communications & Development Shenique Coston declined to comment.
The State Board of Education was expected to vote on the charter school application at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at 450 Columbus Blvd. in Hartford, and is expected to make a decision that day.
Proceedings will be livestreamed at portal.ct.gov/SDE.