Tensions Rise at February Board of Education Meeting

Conflict sparked at February’s Board of Education meeting.


Both in Great Neck and across the nation, board-of-education meetings brimmed with partisan conflict over topics such as mask mandates and critical race theory. During the Great Neck Board of Education meeting on Feb. 16, little opposition to conservative viewpoints was expressed partly due to a lack of teacher representation.

Masking was the primary contentious issue of the meeting. Attendees applauded in agreement with resident Lilia Simhayeva, who accused the district of child abuse for its mask mandate (a requirement by state law), claiming the mandate was a conspiracy to increase vaccination rates. Vaccines were also a commonly mentioned issue, although there is no vaccine mandate for students.

After a lengthy and comprehensive budget presentation, Great Neck parent Alina Parizianu refused to put on her mask to speak. She proceeded to point out that former principal Bernard Kaplan was not wearing a mask in December of 2021. During the confrontation, the audience grew increasingly angry. Parizianu continued to speak, despite pleas by Board President Rebecca Sassouni and Board Member Jeffrey Shi, who urged audience members to wear masks and stop interrupting the flow of the meeting. Soon after, the Board went into recess by a 3-2 vote — an act that has only occurred once before at another unruly meeting .

“It’s really very difficult to be sitting here trying to run this meeting,” said Sassouni in response to repeated interruptions by Parizianu and others attending the meeting. “I’m just asking for a little courtesy.”

In addition to conflict over masking, parents expressed concerns with the alleged teaching of critical race theory, which is not part of the curriculum at any schools in the district. They also appeared troubled by the existence of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Social Emotional Learning programs.

“Hear our cries,” said resident Tanya Friedberg. “Parents are deciding to vote you down, to vote no on budgets, and some are even discussing pulling bonds for Superintendent Prendergast… Parents are now observing their teachers… We are teaching kids it’s not okay for children to be shamed for… things man cannot change.”

“The mask is just a symbol of government enforcing illegal measures on their citizens,” said resident Diana Voicu. “It will now go to ‘math is racist… any other subject on the curriculum [is going to be deemed racist too],” she clarified.

Voicu also expressed her frustration with the DEI. “The [program’s] framework [teaches of the] senseless brutal killing of Black and Brown men and women at the hands of law enforcement.’”

Overall, recent Board of Education meetings — February’s meeting in particular — were notably contentious due to residents’ focus on culture war issues, accusations of the district allegedly teaching critical race theory, and many North High parents’ opposition to mask wearing. However, as of March 6, the mask mandate will no longer remain in effect across New York State schools. Though this recent change remedied one topic of controversy, the others remain highly contested.