BOE Meeting Escalates Tensions

The Board of Education’s most recent meeting reached new levels of tension last week, to the point where it even had to be temporarily paused.

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A screenshot from the livestream of the meeting, showing the moments just after the Board took a recess. (Credit: Ava Hoffman).

The Great Neck Board of Education meeting on Nov. 17 caused quite a bit of controversy among attendees and local residents. Many parents were angered over an article on the conservative website DefendingEd.org, which focused on a lesson taught in an 11th grade English class at North. The lesson in question involved the facilitation of student discussion about the history of racism, both as it was experienced 200 years ago as well as in America today.

The article was then posted on the Facebook group “Moms and Dads of Great Neck ”, where it received over 150 comments. Allegedly, many of the responses were heated and passionate, triggering a discussion over the role of this type of education in school and the value of teaching anti-racism in high school classes.

 The slide from the lesson that caused the most controversy.

As this topic came up in last week’s board meeting, the tenor of the conversation had allegedly escalated in comparison to that of previous sessions. Audience members were allegedly voicing themselves out of turn, criticizing the school board members, and speaking past the three minutes allotted to them. As a result, the meeting was temporarily paused, causing more outrage from the impassioned attendees. 

In a recent email, the Board commented on the situation, saying “we must model civility even as views with which we disagree are expressed.” In the same email, the Board also expressed their wishes for peace in their future meetings, respect for staff members, and understanding from the public as to what they can do in regard to parental concern.

Speakers at the meeting displayed a diverse range of opinions regarding the lesson. One parent, Michael Sanders, was supportive of the lesson and the teachers–especially their efforts to “expose students to difficult topics”. He wanted to ensure that his point of view was heard, and “reassure the board, the teacher, and other students that there were sane voices in the town.” While Sanders did not agree with all those who spoke, he noted that he was glad that so many took the time to make their voices heard.

A current student did not look as favorably on the value of the lesson. Current S.O. President Sahar Tartak chose to speak at the meeting because she “felt an obligation to speak out against the forceful politicization of education at GNNHS”. Tartak also noted that she received “a lot of praise” from fellow students, many of whom said that they felt the same way. 

 A screenshot from the livestream of the meeting, showing the moments just after the Board took a recess. (Credit: Ava Hoffman).

Another topic at the board meeting that had reportedly led to much anger and frustration was the continuation of mask mandates at school. Many attendees, including one 6th grade student voiced  their dislike of the policy. As the school board noted, however, the mandate is state-wide, and is out of their control. 

While many reputedly left the meeting feeling unsatisfied that the issues were not resolved to their satisfaction, others said that they appreciated the opportunity to be heard, and appreciated having an open dialogue in their community, although some say that the conduct of participants could have been improved.