A West Babylon school board trustee has apologized for a Facebook post — “Cuomo: Take your knee off New York’s neck … We can’t breathe” — that has prompted some residents to call for her resignation.
Jennifer Wandasiewicz referenced the words of a dying George Floyd to criticize Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for canceling graduation for the Class of 2020, saying she was entitled “to my personal opinion of the people who continue to try to destroy our students!”
Floyd died May 25 after a police officer in Minneapolis pressed a knee into his neck for nearly 9 minutes as he repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe. His death led to the arrests of four officers and has sparked more than two weeks of protests across the nation and on Long Island calling for law enforcement reforms and an end to police brutality.
The comment last weekend by Wandasiewicz, a board member for eight years, led to a Change.org petition that by Friday had more than 550 signatures calling for her resignation.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi struggled Friday to respond to Wandasiewicz’s comments.
“That’s so shockingly tone deaf and offensive I’m at a loss,” Azzopardi said.
During the West Babylon school board meeting on Zoom on Wednesday, Wandasiewicz read a statement apologizing for the post.
“I made a poor choice of words and posted a comment on my personal Facebook page that offended many people,” she said. “It was a political statement and in no way meant to be racist in nature or content. I made a mistake by using a poor analogy. … The comment was in poor taste and I regret that it has hurt and offended people.”
In a statement read during Wednesday’s meeting, school board president Lucy Campasano said the comments were “inappropriate and insensitive.”
“To say we were disheartened when we learned of the post is an understatement,” Campasano said. “We recognize and celebrate our diverse student and community population. We also acknowledge that we are better and stronger when we work together."
According to 2018-19 state data, the district has more than 3,700 students: 2% are multiracial, 4% are Asian, 8% are African American, 26% are Latino and 59% are white.
Yiendhy Farrelly, superintendent of schools for West Babylon, said in a statement she read during the meeting Wednesday that she has no legal authority to reprimand or address trustee behavior.
“As your superintendent and as a parent, it is my job to promote an inclusive environment for all students, staff and faculty that is free from bias actions or insensitive statements,” Farrelly said.
Jared Martino, a 2016 graduate of West Babylon Senior High School who created the Change.org petition, said Friday that he was “outraged” by Wandasiewicz’s post.
“The idea of comparing a graduation to the death of anyone just seemed disgusting to me,” said Martino, 22. “She implies this is a community approach as she says ‘we.’ However, I feel that it is our responsibility to keep her in check. I wanted to bring this situation to light.”
Another school board official faced criticism during the meeting Wednesday over a sign supporting President Donald Trump that was visible during the call.
“If someone doesn’t like my Trump sign in the background, you don’t have to look at it,” said Peter Scarlatos, the board’s second vice president. “It’s your prerogative. You have your choice, I’ll have mine.”
Scarlatos, who has been on the board since 2010-11, did not return multiple calls for comment.
Sherry McKittrick, 56, whose son Drew, 15, is a ninth-grader at the high school, said Wandasiewicz didn’t need to apologize because she said she “understood it as she just wants Governor Cuomo to start lifting restrictions.”
She said she didn’t agree with the Trump sign displayed by Scarlatos.
“If you are having a board of education meeting on Zoom, political signs should not be able to be seen,” McKittrick said. “If we were back at the school, he would not be able to have that sign there.”
With Yancey Roy