“He called me to apologize, and I did not accept this apology,” Lawrence Acting Mayor Kendrys Vasquez told GBH News on Friday. “The only thing that I will accept from this gentleman is a letter of resignation. That is the only thing that our city deserves. That is the only thing communities of color throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts deserve — a resignation letter from Michael Moriarty.”
Vasquez’s outrage stems from an April 20 meeting of the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. In a discussion about annual performance determinations, board member Moriarty commented on the need for accountability in Lawrence, Holyoke and other communities with underperforming districts. Then he remarked: “We know they can’t change themselves, ‘cause they never do.”
Vasquez says he learned about the remark from an aide who was attended the meeting. His office issued a press release the next day, calling the remarks offensive.
“His words have acted as a dog whistle and what you really want to say is that ‘immigrants are lazy people who do not care about education,’’ he said in that release. “To insinuate that Lawrence Public Schools cannot change because of our past or our current status is offensive.”
Moriarty issued a prepared statement Friday apologizing for his remark.
“I made a comment regarding the value of MCAS and the school accountability system, which I regret was insulting, and for that I sincerely apologize,” he wrote. “I was speaking about schools in Holyoke – my home town – and Lawrence, and other communities with Level 5 underperforming schools.”
He admitted making the remarks as Vasquez had quoted them and said he was referring to school districts, not people in those communities.
“I never meant to disparage people who live in Holyoke and Lawrence. I apologize for giving that impression,” he said. “I will strive to communicate much better going forward.”
Moriarty is lawyer and lifelong resident of Holyoke, according to his state bio. Vasquez became mayor in January after serving as the city’s youngest city councilor.
Vasquez said Friday that he would not relent in his demand for a resignation becasuse Moriarty is unfit to serve if he holds some communities in disregard. Vasquez said he would ask Gov. Charlie Baker and Education commissioner Jeffrey Riley to remove Moriarty, who has served on the board since 2015. The Governor’s office directed inquiries to Moriarty directly.
“If he doesn’t resign, I am getting prepared to start rallying against him,” Vasquez said. “Every time there’s a meeting, if we have to show up every time we’re going to do it. We’re gonna call attention to this.”
Lawrence, Holyoke and Southbridge are the state’s three “chronically underperforming” districts.
Lawrence’s accountability classification is currently “requiring assistance or intervention.” Vasquez said that as part of the city’s commitment to education. the district passed a $130 million measure this week to rebuild the Oliver Partnership School an elementary and middle school.