Guest Columns

Why New Castle’s Proposed Anti-Protest Law is Connected to CCSD’s DEI Crackdown

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By Shokoofeh Rajabzadeh and Leslie Horn Peterson

The Town of New Castle is considering a law that would impose a $500 fee for groups to obtain a permit to exercise the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest. Groups would also be required to obtain liability insurance.

It’s no coincidence that town leadership proposed this law less than a month after a group of high school students organized and led a peaceful rally calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, which brought a sizable group of people of color to New Castle’s town center.

The Town Board and supervisor unsuccessfully used every imaginable strategy to deny the protest permit. Now, they’ve set their sights on preventing future protests by making it cost prohibitive to schedule and organize one.

Though proposing an anti-protest law in response to a protest demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, and the gathering of people of color in the Town of New Castle is disappointing, it is not surprising. Despite the efforts of its citizens, the Town of New Castle has a reputation in Westchester County as a town that does not understand the work of equity. Here are just a few examples – many of which have occurred in the last six months – from the short three-and-a-half years that we have lived here:

  • Black and brown students have spoken up in distress at multiple Board of Education meetings about the racism and inequity they experience in our schools.
  • The entire town Council of Race, Equity, and Inclusion (CREI) resigned because they were not given the authority to do the work of equity. The organization set up to replace it – the Committee on Inclusion and Belonging – erases “race” and “equity” in its name.
  • Many residents wrote to the Town Board urging them not to take sides in the Israel-Gaza war. Their concerns were completely ignored. Last October the Israeli flag was officially raised on municipal property in New Castle, and continues to fly, and will continue to fly longer than any neighboring town in Westchester County.
  • The Chappaqua Central School District (CCSD) superintendent has sent multiple messages about the horrific attacks on Israel, but she has never used the words Gaza or Palestine, much less acknowledged the mass violence inflicted onto them, despite numerous community members (white and BIPOC) asking her to do so.
  • CCSD’s DEI arm has also undergone changes. It is now called Community, Culture, and Belonging.
  • CCSD tax dollars have been spent organizing parent focus groups facilitated by the Director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center and the American Jewish Committee to beautifully support Jewish parents with a particular political ideology. Yet, there have been no BIPOC, Palestinian or Arab counterparts. Meanwhile, curriculum on the Middle East is being vetted by the Institute for Curriculum Services, a nonprofit “dedicated to improving the accuracy of K-12 instruction and instructional materials on Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history,” without any Palestinian or Arab counterpart.
  • Coincidentally, the CCSD PTA Diversity, Race, and Belonging arm has also been asked to revisit its mission and scope. The PTA Diversity, Race and Belonging chair was asked not to make public personal statements voicing her views on the massacre and humanitarian crisis in Gaza on public platforms, while other members in PTA leadership and the Board of Education have publicly boasted their support for Israel and the IDF on social media platforms.
  • When student protestors organized a ceasefire rally, the town supervisor drew parallels between their right to protest and the KKK’s right to secure a permit.

The pattern is clear: both the Town of New Castle and CCSD are taking steps to dismantle the work of DEI at a time when it is more important than ever. Town and district leaders will claim that their objective in renaming the DEI and CREI arms is to prioritize inclusivity.

But inclusivity is not only an inherent part of equity, but was already included in DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity) and the CREI (Council on Race, Equity, and Inclusivity). It was not the privileging of Inclusivity that led leaders to make these changes, but the deprioritizing of Race, Diversity and Equity.

As parents of young children, we are seriously concerned. How can we ensure that all our children are prepared to grapple with the white supremacy, anti-Blackness and prejudice that makes up the fabric of this country, when, in these revisions, our leaders have signaled to residents that they do not have the courage to stand behind race and equity, or that these concepts are offensive or inappropriate? We cannot do this work alone.

What we can do, and should be able to do unimpeded, is gather – to grieve, to protest, to find the energy to continue to hope, especially at a time when our elected officials have shown that they do not represent the interests of all citizens.

We, as intersectional white and BIPOC progressives of New Castle, are here to stay. Though actions from leaders in this town suggest otherwise, we know this is our home too.

Shokoofeh Rajabzadeh, PhD holds a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley. Her widely published and award-winning research theorizes the racialization of Muslims and predomern Islamophoobia. She lives in Chappaqua with her husband and two children. 

Leslie Horn Peterson is a writer and editor who studied at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Her work has appeared in VICE, Deadspin, Dwell, among other publications. She resides in Chappaqua with her husband and two children.

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