Nassau BOCES DEI experts Shaundrika Langley-Grey, left, and Gina Faust,...

Nassau BOCES DEI experts Shaundrika Langley-Grey, left, and Gina Faust, in Westbury on Feb. 14. Credit: Danielle Silverman

As diversity, equity and inclusion policies face scrutiny and bans nationwide, the state Education Department and some Long Island school systems have taken steps to ensure their guidelines remain in place.

Locally, some districts have drafted plans, appointed DEI staffers and incorporated training for educators on inclusion and culturally responsive education, but a local nonprofit that tracks DEI initiatives said in a report that 18% of the Island's 120-plus districts have made no progress in the area.

“A lot of people don't understand” the purpose behind these policies, said Amanda Stein-Cohen, president and co-founder of the Long Island Strong Schools Alliance. “We say it covers every human being — whether that is race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or gender, learning ability, physical ability and even political ideology. We want all students to feel accepted and safe at our public schools.”

Those against such programs have said they do not make people more tolerant of differences and that parents should be able to decide if they want their children subjected to these policies.

State Sen. Alexis Weik (R-Sayville), a member of the Senate Committee on Education, said in a statement that “schools should not be hotbeds for political persuasions. Parents should not be left questioning what is being taught in classrooms. It is our right to know the curriculum that is being taught, and if we don’t agree, we should have the option to have our kids sit out.”

School districts received joint guidance to start the school year from the state Education Department and State Attorney General's Office stating that public schools cannot meet their legal obligations unless they place DEI at the center of their work. 

Schools must “ensure teaching and learning reflect principles of diversity, equity and inclusion and provide opportunities for all students to make educational progress,” according to the guidance sent in August. Schools also should examine discipline and address bullying and harassment through an equity lens, the guidance reads. 

The New York Board of Regents, which oversees policy for K-12, adopted a sweeping DEI policy in May 2021 that included having districts establish DEI committees, retain and recruit a diverse workforce, implement nondiscriminatory discipline policies and ensure that books, lessons and teaching materials are inclusive and culturally responsive.

Schools should "ensure that coursework, programs and activities are accessible to all students, regardless of their disability status, native language, income level, or any other basis," the policy read.

The goal of these plans, said April Frances-Taylor, Eastern Suffolk BOCES’ director of DEI, is to make sure students have equitable access to education and are not discriminated against.

Frances-Taylor, who was hired as the agency’s first DEI director in 2021, works to ensure that each of the agency’s programs has its own equity plan and is culturally responsive for students and staff. BOCES offers professional development to schools throughout the district.

Another BOCES staffer, Amanda Chansingh, offers regional training while helping schools across the Island develop DEI programs. BOCES also hosts a DEI conference in May that’s open to all Island districts.

This month, Eastern Suffolk BOCES announced its first student-staff mentoring program, which pairs noninstructional staff with middle school students. Officials said it falls under the agency's DEI framework, “which includes creating safe and supportive environments where all students feel welcomed. After reviewing some of our data, we realized some of our students may benefit from additional support, such as a mentoring program.”

Nassau BOCES has been offering DEI professional development to districts for more than 15 years and has evolved to cover the state’s DEI initiatives, program coordinator Gina Faust said. The agency offers workshops and consultants who can work with districts to unpack the state’s DEI framework.

Some of the workshops offered this school year include training on culturally responsive education, equity-focused conversations for school leaders and understanding implicit bias. Last month, the agency offered a workshop on how educators can gain a deeper understanding of microaggressions and how to address them when they occur.

“We need to really establish a learning environment where we're meeting the needs and supporting all of our students, no matter what their unique experiences and perspectives are,” Faust said.

Shaundrika Langley-Grey, assistant director for curriculum and instruction, said Nassau BOCES' Equity, Inclusivity and Belonging Support Services provide personnel a resource where “they feel comfortable calling and asking questions."

“It's important when you go in with the spirit of collaboration and of trust, and they feel like they can trust you,” Langley-Grey said.

Other local districts have solidified their commitment. The Westbury district has 42 people on its DEI committee. Each building has its own DEI committee member who participates in trainings and action plan meetings.

The Center Moriches district, which enrolls about 1,500 students, launched its DEI initiatives about four years ago. The district follows an equity plan that is modified and adopted by its school board each year. The latest updates were made in August.

The plan involves a review of field trips, appointment of DEI liaisons, and assessment of buildings, homework, student discipline and professional development.

The goal, according to the plan, is “to ensure that diverse representations are included in the curriculum and provide students with multiple opportunities to have experiences with people from all cultural identities.”

Ricardo Soto, Center Moriches' assistant superintendent for student services, personnel and instructional technology, has served as the DEI chair districtwide for the past four years. He said there’s been a demographic shift in the district from a student body that was 13% to 14% Hispanic to now nearly a quarter Hispanic and about 5% who identify as Black or African American. In addition, about 7% of students are from the Poospatuck Reservation.

“We are engaged in this work to give our students every opportunity to understand the global environment that exists outside of their immediate homes,” he said.

The equity plan touches on all parts of the school experience. This past May, the district hosted its first Cultural Fest, which drew about 1,300 from the community. Organizers were expecting half that number.

For those who have questioned such policies, “We have had some challenging conversations that I have been able to navigate through by embracing different perspectives and not attempting to silence and consider opposing viewpoints perspectives,” Soto said.

As diversity, equity and inclusion policies face scrutiny and bans nationwide, the state Education Department and some Long Island school systems have taken steps to ensure their guidelines remain in place.

Locally, some districts have drafted plans, appointed DEI staffers and incorporated training for educators on inclusion and culturally responsive education, but a local nonprofit that tracks DEI initiatives said in a report that 18% of the Island's 120-plus districts have made no progress in the area.

“A lot of people don't understand” the purpose behind these policies, said Amanda Stein-Cohen, president and co-founder of the Long Island Strong Schools Alliance. “We say it covers every human being — whether that is race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or gender, learning ability, physical ability and even political ideology. We want all students to feel accepted and safe at our public schools.”

Those against such programs have said they do not make people more tolerant of differences and that parents should be able to decide if they want their children subjected to these policies.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • As DEI policies face scrutiny and bans in about two dozen states nationwide, the state Education Department and several Long Island school systems are taking steps to ensure these policies remain in place.
  • Both the state Education Department and Attorney General's office sent guidance to all districts before the start of the school year stating schools cannot meet their legal obligations unless DEI is at the center of their work.
  • Nationally, faculty, staff and students across the country have been forced to reckon with efforts to weaken DEI, experts said.

State Sen. Alexis Weik (R-Sayville), a member of the Senate Committee on Education, said in a statement that “schools should not be hotbeds for political persuasions. Parents should not be left questioning what is being taught in classrooms. It is our right to know the curriculum that is being taught, and if we don’t agree, we should have the option to have our kids sit out.”

School districts received joint guidance to start the school year from the state Education Department and State Attorney General's Office stating that public schools cannot meet their legal obligations unless they place DEI at the center of their work. 

Schools must “ensure teaching and learning reflect principles of diversity, equity and inclusion and provide opportunities for all students to make educational progress,” according to the guidance sent in August. Schools also should examine discipline and address bullying and harassment through an equity lens, the guidance reads. 

The New York Board of Regents, which oversees policy for K-12, adopted a sweeping DEI policy in May 2021 that included having districts establish DEI committees, retain and recruit a diverse workforce, implement nondiscriminatory discipline policies and ensure that books, lessons and teaching materials are inclusive and culturally responsive.

Schools should "ensure that coursework, programs and activities are accessible to all students, regardless of their disability status, native language, income level, or any other basis," the policy read.

The goal of these plans, said April Frances-Taylor, Eastern Suffolk BOCES’ director of DEI, is to make sure students have equitable access to education and are not discriminated against.

Frances-Taylor, who was hired as the agency’s first DEI director in 2021, works to ensure that each of the agency’s programs has its own equity plan and is culturally responsive for students and staff. BOCES offers professional development to schools throughout the district.

Another BOCES staffer, Amanda Chansingh, offers regional training while helping schools across the Island develop DEI programs. BOCES also hosts a DEI conference in May that’s open to all Island districts.

This month, Eastern Suffolk BOCES announced its first student-staff mentoring program, which pairs noninstructional staff with middle school students. Officials said it falls under the agency's DEI framework, “which includes creating safe and supportive environments where all students feel welcomed. After reviewing some of our data, we realized some of our students may benefit from additional support, such as a mentoring program.”

Nassau BOCES has been offering DEI professional development to districts for more than 15 years and has evolved to cover the state’s DEI initiatives, program coordinator Gina Faust said. The agency offers workshops and consultants who can work with districts to unpack the state’s DEI framework.

Some of the workshops offered this school year include training on culturally responsive education, equity-focused conversations for school leaders and understanding implicit bias. Last month, the agency offered a workshop on how educators can gain a deeper understanding of microaggressions and how to address them when they occur.

“We need to really establish a learning environment where we're meeting the needs and supporting all of our students, no matter what their unique experiences and perspectives are,” Faust said.

Shaundrika Langley-Grey, assistant director for curriculum and instruction, said Nassau BOCES' Equity, Inclusivity and Belonging Support Services provide personnel a resource where “they feel comfortable calling and asking questions."

“It's important when you go in with the spirit of collaboration and of trust, and they feel like they can trust you,” Langley-Grey said.

Other local districts have solidified their commitment. The Westbury district has 42 people on its DEI committee. Each building has its own DEI committee member who participates in trainings and action plan meetings.

The Center Moriches district, which enrolls about 1,500 students, launched its DEI initiatives about four years ago. The district follows an equity plan that is modified and adopted by its school board each year. The latest updates were made in August.

The plan involves a review of field trips, appointment of DEI liaisons, and assessment of buildings, homework, student discipline and professional development.

The goal, according to the plan, is “to ensure that diverse representations are included in the curriculum and provide students with multiple opportunities to have experiences with people from all cultural identities.”

Ricardo Soto, Center Moriches' assistant superintendent for student services, personnel and instructional technology, has served as the DEI chair districtwide for the past four years. He said there’s been a demographic shift in the district from a student body that was 13% to 14% Hispanic to now nearly a quarter Hispanic and about 5% who identify as Black or African American. In addition, about 7% of students are from the Poospatuck Reservation.

“We are engaged in this work to give our students every opportunity to understand the global environment that exists outside of their immediate homes,” he said.

The equity plan touches on all parts of the school experience. This past May, the district hosted its first Cultural Fest, which drew about 1,300 from the community. Organizers were expecting half that number.

For those who have questioned such policies, “We have had some challenging conversations that I have been able to navigate through by embracing different perspectives and not attempting to silence and consider opposing viewpoints perspectives,” Soto said.

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