By Anna Young
Tensions flared last Tuesday as the Brewster Central School District hosted a town hall style meeting where a panel of clergy members, school and elected officials discussed the controversy where four recent graduates were seen in a video using racial slurs.
During the hour-long meeting, the 14-member panel discussed ways to prevent racism and boasted the reputation of the community despite the racially charged video.
Earlier this summer the Brewster community became tangled in controversy when a video, posted by Baller Alert, showed former Brewster students using the n-word. In the seven- second video, chants of the n-word are heard and at the end of the video, one teen is heard saying, “I f—ing hate n—ers.”
“Brewster is a good school district and community with wonderful children, families, educators and staff,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Valerie Henning-Piedmonte said. “The ultimate goal this evening is to make sure that all children know that our schools are committed to ensuring that they are safe, valued and cared for regardless of who they are.”
While several panel members discussed methods parents and school officials can do to combat bigotry and racism, the nearly 100 community members in attendance grew increasingly frustrated when district officials abruptly ended the meeting without allowing time for the public to share their concerns.
“This was not a town hall meeting, it was a lecture,” one audience member screamed out when officials brought the meeting to a close.
Another parent expressed that they came to speak in an open forum, not to write on an index card.
Prior to the meeting, residents were encouraged to write their questions or concerns on an index card that would be presented to the panel following their discussion. When school board president Dr. Stephen Jambor stated they would schedule another town meeting to discuss public concern, angry community members fought back.
“This was them talking to us, they don’t want to hear what we have to say, they just want to tell us what they want” parent Cathy Meyer said. “This is not the first time this type of crap has happened. They say this is a diverse community, it’s not.”
“I apologize that you didn’t get time and we obviously recognize that and we will be working to make sure we create another venue where you do have time and that we give you that opportunity,” Henning- Piedmonte said. “We certainly wanted to have you involved and participating.”
Few panel members approached frustrated community members apologizing and expressing they weren’t aware the meeting would end before the
public had been given a chance to speak. Parents were also upset that the addition of a new school logo wasn’t discussed, as promised, during the panel discussion. The Board of Education followed the forum with their own meeting where they agreed not to move forward with the logo until a public hearing is held.
A new logo, meant to accompany the Brewster bear mascot on the district website and letterhead, was created to symbolize the district’s commitment to ensuring that all children acquire 21st century academic and social emotional skills that will set them up for success in life, work and future learning, district officials said. The district has received pushback against the proposed logo because it abandons tradition, upset residents have stated.
Trustee Sonia Mesika said discussion regarding the school logo would be tabled until their next meeting on Sept. 12.