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Tense moments at Syosset school board meeting prompts calls to police

Attendees during the meeting spoke emotionally, sometimes yelling, as discussions centered around how antisemitism and Islamophobia have been addressed by the district.

Jon Dowding

Dec 8, 2023, 3:40 AM

Updated 194 days ago

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Tense moments during a Syosset school board meeting Monday prompted calls to Nassau County Police Department.
Attendees during the meeting spoke emotionally, sometimes yelling, as discussions centered around how antisemitism and Islamophobia have been addressed by the district.
Watch the full meeting here.
News12 will not repeat the comment made during the meeting that infuriated some in the audience, resulting in the board to call a recess.
"The board is going to take a five-minute recess until we maintain order in the audience,” said Board President Carol Cheng.
Audio is then cut from the video feed. Someone is seen jumping from their seat and then security is seen separating two other people not long after.
Then, the feed goes to black.
When it restarts, members of the district's Anti-Bias Task Force try to calm the crowd, asking them to breathe and count to five.
"The Hebrew word for five is hamesh and the Arabic word for five is khamsa. There is so much we have in common, way more than we have separate and different [...] at least in Syosset,” said Rabbi Jaimee Shalhevet.
The man from earlier continued his comments before being told to stop.
A freshman Palestinian student from Syosset High School later comes to speak.
"Apparently, I'm also a terrorist and Hamas because those are the two labels that I've been called last month by my peers at school,” she said. "A lot of the Islamophobia students are experiencing is due to the schools lack of empathy and acknowledgement towards how us Muslim students feel."
A parent applauded the student for speaking up and said he feels for her seeing as she is going through what his kids have had to go through. He went on to say one problem has led to hate incidents in Syosset schools.
"Dr. Rogers and the board, specifically Dr. Rogers, I've had numerous conversations with you regarding empathy,” he said. “That is something that is lacking in this district."
A Jewish student from the high school described the pain she feels going to school and says the district isn't doing enough to condemn antisemitic incidents at the school.
"Antisemitism itself needs to be condemned for what it is and it has not been,” she said. “As a Jewish student, it hurts to go to school every day and it pains me to see all my other fellow students feel the same pain that I feel."
As the attitude changed toward the end of the meeting, district officials expressed optimism moving forward.
"I continue to see this community doing the hard work of working through a really difficult time. And even though that hard work is messy, I see us making progress,” said Syosset Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tom Rogers.
Syosset Board of Education President Carol Cheng sent a letter to families Thursday addressing Monday night’s conduct and the need to call Nassau County Police Department for assistance. She also addressed the district’s efforts to teach students about inclusion.
Read the full statement below:
—----------------------------------
Dear Syosset Community:
We are writing to express our deep concern with the public conduct at our Board of Education Meeting on Monday evening. As you may be aware, several individuals became disruptive and caused the Board to temporarily suspend the meeting and leave the room. Once order was restored, the meeting resumed.
The conflict that occurred between attendees was absolutely unacceptable. At least one person made physical contact with another. Several people did threatening and provocative things that were directed at others in attendance. There was name calling, verbal taunts and gestures, acts of intimidation, and heckling from the audience. This contributed to an unsafe environment that required the District to call for assistance from the Nassau County Police. We very much appreciate their swift and professional response. As these events unfolded, the Board implemented our safety plan, and Security’s complete attention was appropriately focused on de-escalation and restoring order.
The District is currently conducting a thorough investigation of these events and consulting with our school attorneys for guidance, in order to implement the provisions of the District's Code of Character, Conduct, and Support. Our investigation has identified serious violations of the Code from individuals on both sides of the conflict that night and we are acting appropriately.
This behavior is intolerable on so many levels. Our diverse community must be able to engage in civil discourse to chart a path forward, not just in easy times, but especially in hard ones. Several people said words that were perceived as hateful. Hateful words and threats are deplorable.
The actions of the disruptive individuals incited escalation, which jeopardized the safety of other members of our public in attendance, the staff, and especially the security team who risk their persons to keep others safe.
But Monday’s greatest failure was how adults fell short as role models for the students who are always watching us. We’ve been engaged in difficult conversations with students about their words, and how to avoid saying and doing things that are hurtful to others. We’ve been educating them about how to be even more inclusive, more welcoming, more tolerant, and more respectful of difference. Young people can’t help but see the yawning gap between what we ask of them and what they witnessed Monday.
This simply cannot and will not be tolerated.
The school’s board meetings are an opportunity for the public to observe the Board as it works. The Board is proud to serve this community and while public comment is not mandated for school boards, we have welcomed the input of the public we represent. However, we will not allow a repeat of what occurred Monday and we are working with the school’s attorneys and our security consultants to update our procedures to ensure the Board has the benefit of the public’s opinions, but is able to do the school district’s business safely, free of disruption and antagonistic speech.
The Board meeting ended on a somewhat hopeful note. Several participants observed that the evening’s events illustrated that the schools were not the source of the conflict in our community and that the community itself must take responsibility for restoring harmony. The Board is the community’s tireless partner in making it better, but we cannot allow our meetings to be a forum for making it worse.
Moving forward, we're committed to restoring harmony and reinforcing our community's values of inclusivity, tolerance, and respect. Together, we must ensure that future meetings reflect our shared aspirations and ideals.
Sincerely,
Carol Cheng, President of the Syosset Board of Education
On behalf of the Board of Education
Tom Rogers, Superintendent of Schools


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