Voters cast their ballots in the school board elections at...

Voters cast their ballots in the school board elections at Hiawatha Elementary School in Lake Ronkonkama. Credit: Reece T. Williams

Months of often ugly, heated battles, ones that sometimes pitted neighbor against neighbor and parent against teacher, came to an official end Tuesday night, with an array of mixed results in local school board races.

But it's likely not the end of the difficult school board meetings, the false assumptions and accusations that fly on social media and the broader culture war at the heart of many of Tuesday's battles.  

In school districts like Smithtown, residents rejected hateful and incorrect rhetoric often centered on how schools teach race and sexuality, how they embrace students who identify as transgender or how they deal with social and emotional learning. 

In others, like Manhasset, those issues and others became the very reasons to reject incumbents and support challengers, as candidates hammered each other over ideological and political differences and ran on issues that often had very little to do with the actual work of a school board. 

Thankfully, more often than not, truth and inclusivity won over falsehoods and division in these contests.

What this spring's elections made quite clear is that Long Islanders care deeply about what's happening in their schools. And that each district across the region is different in the way it handles controversy, communicates with its residents and reacts to challenges.

But there is one priority for all newly elected and current board members, regardless of the platform they ran on. Math, science, reading, the arts and the other fundamental aspects of a student's education are key. If school board members put as much energy into their districts' core curriculum issues, along with budgets, staffing, facilities and other needs, they could make a real difference for students. And school board members who allow teachers to do their jobs well, who provide them with resources and support rather than vitriol, could propel their districts to even greater success.

That's not to say cultural issues and inclusivity don't have a place in the schools. They do. No matter how and why they were elected, Long Island's school board members have an obligation to make sure every student feels supported, diversity is embraced, hate is shunned. These disturbing divisions and exclusions can filter down from parents to children.

The day after the school board election, Wednesday, Manhasset's acting superintendent reported that a swastika was discovered on a memorial bench given to the district in memory of a student who died.

If every school board member, teacher, parent and student could agree that such a hateful demonstration is unacceptable, that's a place to start as we seek to find common ground and to work together to continue building our strong schools and communities.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.