Great Neck school officials discuss inquiry into teaching about racism

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Great Neck school officials discuss inquiry into teaching about racism
Discussions surrounding age-appropriate curriculum throughout the Great Neck School District remain ongoing, officials said last week. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Great Neck school officials updated the public on the status of an inquiry into teaching about racism during Wednesday night’s Board of Education meeting.

In November, the board meeting was flooded with comments and concerns over alleged teachings about racism and “white fragility” in an 11th-grade English class at North High School. Board President Rebecca Sassouni said an inquiry was launched and discussions remain ongoing to further analyze districtwide curricula.

“On behalf of the board, I would really like to thank our administrators and teachers who are respectfully engaging in parent and student inquiries,” Sassouni said. “We are encouraged that our capable and dedicated teachers and administrators are open to sharing curricula including on department websites and to having discussions with students and parents.”

Sassouni and District Superintendent Teresa Prendergast said district stakeholders will be updated on any findings from the inquiry regarding curricula and both touted educators in the district for their commitment to finding ways to teach sensitive matters in an age-appropriate manner.

“Our curriculum leaders will work with teachers to review, update and share course outlines with parents,” Prendergast said. “Faculty will also collaborate with one another and use professional discretion for the selection and use of materials for the courses that are taught.”

“If what come out of the inquiry that was just done and the review that has been had is that we come to shared consensus that viewpoint neutrality in furtherance of education is a positive thing, then that process, which resulted in that consensus, was a positive, productive, teachable moment,” Sassouni said.

The controversy was set off by slides, purportedly used in the 11th-grade class, that were included in an article on the website of Parents Defending Education, a national grassroots organization that works to ensure schools do not promote “harmful agendas,” according to its site.

According to the group, under a slide discussing racism in America, a quote read, “White people benefit from this system, intentionally or unintentionally, which makes us all (technically) racist, myself included.”

The district has not confirmed or denied that the slides were used in a class.

The teacher, whose name was not disclosed in the article or by members of the Board of Education, also included a slide asking students to agree to a pledge, calling on them to explore sensitive topics openly and honestly, view antiracism as a process to work toward and call out their own and others’ racist tendencies.

During the meeting, a letter was also read on behalf of the United Parent Teacher Council’s Total Community Involvement Committee. Moji Pourmoradi, the council’s member-at-large, and Kevin Sun, the council’s treasurer, said the council called for two meetings in the past two weeks to start a dialogue for district stakeholders to discuss their “visions, goals and concerns.”

“We also discussed the need to reduce the tension within the district, to provide constructive community building, a need for parents to learn accurate information and for parents to feel heard,” Pourmoradi said.

“We are encouraged that the school district has shown initial interest in working on community forums and look forward to bringing these to light,” Sun said.

Prendergast reiterated her support and faith in the district’s administration and educators to provide students with quality education and keep its reputation intact.

“I have the utmost respect and confidence in our teachers and administrators to help students negotiate these challenging issues,” Prendergast said. “The Great Neck Public Schools employs an incredibly talented and hardworking professional team of educators who make significant contributions to our school community.”

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