Last week, a reprehensible display of bigotry took place at a budget hearing for the Lakeland Central School District. A group of parents, who exist far outside the mainstream of this community, demonstrated just how critical it is that the school board and administration take more seriously their obligation to put in place a comprehensive districtwide diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) program.
For those who were not in attendance or have not seen clips from the meeting, these are a just a few of the most egregious moments. An African American parent spoke of the need for the budget to include funds for districtwide DEI work and a man from the audience yelled at him “This isn’t Harlem.”
A woman took to the podium and screamed for several minutes at the school board, wanting to know how much Lakeland was spending for “the illegal children.”
Another man in the audience shouted out to the school board president, a Jewish man, that he was acting like the Germans.
This is the Lakeland Central School District. This is Yorktown and Cortlandt. The people who said these things are the parents of children who attend our schools and whose children are in classes with our own. It belies reason to think what is learned at home doesn’t make its way into the hallways and classrooms of our schools. I cannot imagine a more compelling moment for the school board to finally recognize its responsibility to get serious about DEI work and not engage in half measures that perpetuate false equivalencies designed to please “all sides.”
There is no excuse for what occurred at the budget meeting. Zero. That said, the Lakeland Board of Education has created a climate whereby this behavior has been tolerated and allowed to fester. The equivocation on the part of the school board and the administration around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion has been nothing but fuel for this fire. The start, stop, silence, and then half measures around district DEI efforts; the attempts to mollify individuals who articulate white grievance at these meetings by putting the brakes on past DEI efforts; and the sacking of the former superintendent – for which these individuals proudly claim credit – have contributed to a climate where fringe parents have no qualms throwing around racist language at a public meeting.
Leadership requires doing what is right and good for the district and our students, not folding to the loudest voices in the room. Leadership requires taking strong stances and holding to them, even when a fringe minority attack, deride and create headaches for the board.
There is no leadership right now in the Lakeland Central School District. The school board and the administration are failing our community and our children.
Mike and Christina Morey
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