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Groups to Stand Against Racism Following Unruly Lakeland Meeting

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Unruly behavior at last week’s Lakeland Board of Education meeting that involved police intervention and racial epithets directed at district officials is being widely denounced.

Several groups are planning to stand in defense of civility and show support for school officials at tonight’s scheduled Board of Education meeting at Lakeland High School.

Michael Lillis, president of the Lakeland Federation of Teachers, stated it has been 25 years since its group has asked members to attend a school board meeting.

“I can think of no reason more important than to stand up for decency,” Lillis stated. “We need to speak in one voice to say that racial abuse will not be tolerated at Lakeland. We owe this to our students, as there is nothing less than the future civility we expect in our schools at stake.”

Several residents who clashed with members of the Lakeland Board of Education during a budget meeting at Lakeland High School Feb. 10 were escorted out by police after refusing to follow repeated requests to calm down.

The situation got so out of hand that the board walked off stage for a necessary break in the action and interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Gagliardi needed to be shielded by police at the end of the tense encounter.

In addition, Lillis said Dr. Tracy Norman, Acting Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, who is Black, was called “Uncle Tom,” at the end of the meeting, and Gagliardi was called a “n***** lover.” Gagliardi also reportedly had to call police as she was being followed home by someone.

The Yorktown Democratic Committee (YDC) has postponed its regular monthly meeting to urge members to turn out at the Lakeland meeting Feb. 17 at 7 p.m.

“The outrageous actions of a small group of protestors threatened not just the civility of the BOE meeting but turned very ugly when racial and ethnic epithets were hurled at interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Gagliardi and a local parent,” said YDC Co-Chair Marni Rabin-Marron.

One speaker lambasted the board last week over the continuing mask mandate for students, while Heather Conway of Cortlandt alleged there was an influx of “illegal” students that was becoming a costly burden for taxpayers. Civility deteriorated further after Paul Edwards, who noted he had three children who were educated in the district, advocated for an instructional program of diversity.

“The YDC welcomes an informed discussion around the role of diversity, equity and inclusion in our local school systems, which could lead to a consensus around priorities that advance the needs of our schools and enrich our entire community,” stated YDC Co-Chair Mark Lieberman. “But that didn’t happen, and we must stand united against the kind of hatred, ignorance, and bigotry that was on display last week.”

Congressman Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), a former educator and middle school principal who resides in Yonkers, stated he also plans to be in attendance.

“The public display of hateful and racist rhetoric during last week’s board meeting is a reminder of how racism and hate continue to threaten our democracy, and we must come together to uproot it and show that we refuse to regress as a society,” he stated.   

“As not only a former teacher and principal with over 20 years of experience but a Black father to three children, it pains me to see a situation like this, especially in our schools – a place that is supposed to serve as a safe haven for our kids. The pain that the victims of this vile hatred experienced and the loss of safety and respect is troubling. We are supposed to be protecting, loving, and most importantly educating our kids. But when division is sown and hate is spewed, the people who end up losing the most are our kids. We must be united in our love and commitment to our children and their education.”

Neither Norman nor Gagliardi could be reached for comment, but Board of Education President Adam Kaufman said earlier this week no changes were planned to the current format for public speaking.

“We believe strongly in supporting community members who wish to address the board during the public comment session. We will continue to support speakers by removing disruptive audience members and reminding the community at large to be respectful to their neighbors, administrators, and board members. We have security and local law enforcement present at all meetings and will continue to work together to ensure that everyone feels safe to share their concerns and opinions at our meetings,” Kaufman stated.

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