White fear is raising its ugly head in Manhasset, New York. Although most candidates endorsed by angry white conservative groups on Long island were defeated in recent school board elections, in Manhasset, two candidates campaigning against Critical Race Theory in the schools were elected, defeating a long time incumbent who argued that CRT was not taught in the district’s K-12 schools and that curriculum decisions should be left to school administrators and teachers who were mandated to follow state guidelines.
Steve Panzik, who describes Critical Race Theory as neo-Marxism and racist garnered the highest vote total. In second place was Nadia Giannopoulos, who promised to involve parents in making curriculum decisions for the district’s schools and to keep out the “ideology” of CRT. Panzik and Giannopoulos were endorsed by a Texas based group called 1776 Project PAC which advertises that it is “dedicated to electing school board members nationwide who want to reform our public education system by promoting patriotism and pride in American history” and tracks school districts they suspect of teaching Critical Race Theory.
Voter unrest in this affluent community, average household income in Manhasset is over $250,000 a year, is despite the high rank Manhasset schools receive from U.S. News and the Niche websites. In the U.S. News report, Manhasset High School was ranked 24th in New York State and 215th in the entire country. It has a 99% graduation rate and its students achieved 100% mathematics proficiency and 99% reading proficiency on state exams. The student population in Manhasset High School is 69% white, 22% Asian, 6% Latinx, and 2.5% Black with a very low percentage of students who are considered English Language Learners or from economically disadvantaged families.
While Manhasset voters traditionally tend to lean Democratic in elections, the town’s population is aging. Twenty-five percent of the adults are senior citizens, especially the white population. In addition, since the 2000 federal census the percentage of non-Hispanic white population of Manhasset has declined from 75% to 62% as white families have largely been replaced by a growing Asian American community. Manhasset students from Asian American backgrounds are now dominating academic achievement awards. A recent Newsday report found that 32 public school districts on Long Island where students of color shifted from being the minority to the majority over the past 20 years. These changes are definitely impacting on school board elections.
In February, the Manhasset Middle School was denounced in a rightwing podcast for having an “all-gender bathroom” and gender equity forum. Shawn Farash of Long Island Loud Majority attended a Manhasset school board meeting and later claimed transgender rights were “weaponized to soften children and put them in harm’s way” and that signs like those posted around Manhasset Middle School leave kids feeling “vulnerable” and “confused.”
School board members and school and district administrators usually try to remain neutral on divisive political issues, but they no longer can as rightwing ideologues politicize school board races and meetings. Instead of apologizing for CRT and explaining it is not part of the K-12 curriculum, they need to actively defend DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) that is mandated in New York State. Schools must respect and promote diversity in the curriculum and in the classroom, they must ensure that all students are educated to the fullest of their potential, and they must make sure schools safe and welcoming for everyone. And as a senior citizen, let me assure you, there is nothing wrong with a little privacy in an all-gender bathroom. I use them all the time.
Meanwhile, what’s going on in Manhasset?
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