A member of the Buffalo Board of Education is coming under fire for giving the middle finger during a virtual meeting of the board last week.
In a video clip that was widely shared on social media, Central District Board Member Paulette Woods is seen making the obscene gesture to the screen after some back and forth among board members during the end of an intense and lengthy School Board meeting Nov. 18. Woods also appeared to be yelling obscenities.
Woods did not return phone calls seeking comment, but in a text message told The News that her microphone was off and her lips were being misread.
“This is a false accusation,” Woods said. “The real issue is not being discussed.”
When asked specifically about giving the middle finger, she did not reply.
One of her fellow board members, though, said her actions should be formally disciplined.
“I have requested from our board leadership now twice that there be a clear response,” At-Large Board Member Larry Scott said. “This behavior is unacceptable and it needs to be censured.”
Said School Board President Sharon Belton-Cottman: “It’s a matter that needs to be discussed by the board and resolved by the board.”
A video recording of the meeting has been posted on the district website, but officials blurred out Woods at the time of the incident. A clip of the video, however, has been circulating in the community and was obtained by The News.
Warning: The video below contains profanity and profane gestures.
The incident came in the waning minutes of a more than four-hour virtual meeting. The meeting was an intense one and centered on extending the contract of Superintendent Kriner Cash. The issue evoked some heated back and forth between board members on whether to vote on an extension that night or table it for further discussion.
It was not that there was disagreement among the School Board members about whether Cash deserved to have his contract extended.
Belton-Cottman and West District Board Member Jennifer Mecozzi were having an exchange when Woods – also shown drinking from a wine glass – appeared to be yelling obscenities at the screen. Her microphone was muted and it was unclear exactly where she was directing her wrath.
Woods could then be seen giving the middle finger to the screen.
That’s when Scott called her out.
“Um, we have a board member that’s giving people the middle finger,” Scott said at the time.
“Sorry? What?” responded Belton-Cottman.
“There was a board member that was just swearing and giving the middle finger to everybody on the screen,” Scott responded.
At that point, the meeting drew to a quick close.
“Can we please call the meeting?” said At-Large Board Member Terrance Heard.
School Boards in Buffalo have a long history of rancor and bitter discourse, with arguing and heated exchanges at the board table relatively commonplace. This current board, however, generally has been more subdued, and the scene during last week’s meeting was more animated than usual.
A three-year contract extension being proposed for Buffalo Superintendent Kriner Cash is coming under scrutiny from several parent activists and members of the clergy.
Scott stopped short of declaring what action should be taken against Woods, a retired Erie County budget examiner now in her second-term on the School Board.
But Scott hopes the rest of the board recognizes the seriousness of the incident and the poor example it sets for the students they represent. It already has caught the attention of members of the community, Scott said.
“People are coming to me, rightfully concerned, about what they witnessed and where the meeting went,” Scott said. “I think it’s up to us to send a message that this was unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.”