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Daily Point

Some decry diversity by any other name

The state Education Department’s Wednesday news conference focused on newly released graduation rates from this past year, which ticked up about 1.3% statewide amid a pandemic-inspired loosening of graduation requirements.

But in many Long Island districts, the biggest news may be the emphasis Education Commissioner Betty Rosa and Regents Chancellor Lester Young placed on "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion."

The state Board of Regents adopted guidance for schools on teaching DEI in May asking educators to affirm students' racial, linguistic and cultural identities.

That’s now one of the department’s stated top priorities, and the first one listed Wednesday. The second one outlines a transition of the department from focusing on oversight to a more "support-oriented approach through collaboration, technical assistance, guidance and responsiveness."

But if the Regents and Education Department want to make DEI a central priority in the Island districts already rebelling against the movement, it might take firm oversight to make that happen.

Parents and concerned residents on the Island have increasingly attended school district board meetings over the past 18 months to be heard. Many feared that "Critical Race Theory" — which argues that racism in the United States is systemic, cultural, and contributed to even by people who are not actively racist — was being taught. Some were angry their children were being taught shame, self-loathing or negativity about their own identities.

Without exception, the districts say they do not teach CRT. But many say they do promote DEI.

One leader of the pushback against schools, Long Island Loud Majority co-founder Sean Farash, recently told Newsday he believes the guidance is similar to critical race theory and they still oppose it.

"It talks about systemic racism," Farash said, "but I don't believe there is systemic racism."

Asked how they’d sell Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to these objectors, and whether the state is on a collision course with them, both Rosa and Young argued that educating the public on what the initiative really does will turn the trick.

Rosa said she believed much of the opposition came from counter-narratives and false and incomplete information intended to hijack the conversation. She said many districts are happily making tremendous strides. And she argued diversity benefits everyone, not just minorities, saying she wants, for instance, "all students to have access to a diverse staff."

But do all the parents want that?

Young argued there is no "collision course" because when the DEI initiative is properly explained to people, "they understand that we are not trying to brainwash students or make them feel bad."

And, he said, it’s important to remember that the benefits of diversity "are not reserved just for people of color."

But Young and Rosa, both career New York City educators, don’t sound like they comprehend how strong the opposition to DEI is in other areas of the state.

— Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Dean’s list

With the Tuesday news that Rep. Kathleen Rice would not seek reelection, the texts started arriving for Andrew Garbarino.

They were from people "busting my chops" and saying they can’t believe "you’ll be the dean of the Long Island delegation after one term," said the 37-year-old Bayport freshman.

Garbarino called it something of a "joke," given his newcomer status to D.C. But it’s mathematically true that come next year, if reelected, he’d have the longest current tenure of any member of Congress from the four primary Long Island districts — leaving aside the slice of Nassau represented by longtime Queens-based Democrat Greg Meeks.

That’s because Rice will be on to different pastures, and Reps. Lee Zeldin and Tom Suozzi appear fully committed to their gubernatorial runs.

It’s a stunning changing of the guard for Long Island’s delegation, considering that Garbarino himself just took over for 14-termer Pete King last year.

The Point asked Garbarino how he would handle the unexpected senior role, particularly if Republicans take over the House majority later this year.

He said that on LI, there are lots of issues where both parties are "on the same side," and broadly, "my job in Congress is to deliver federal dollars home for local projects."

He posited that the dean title can be really earned at moments of crisis for a region, like Superstorm Sandy or 9/11, when a local leader can urge colleagues to "circle the wagons and get something done for Long Island."

He suggested that King filled that role at those moments and beyond.

Committee-wise, he said he’d be interested in Financial Services, crucial to the region given that NY is the "financial capital of the world."

"You want to make sure that, you know, whether it's dealing with crypto or banking, we don't hurt innovation that drives it out of New York into other countries," said Garbarino.

Asked about what makes a good dean, the former state assemblyman cited the leadership of former Albany denizen Andrew Raia who "took the new guys under his wing."

That included sharing contacts so the newcomer can start settling into the new job.

Raia, now the Huntington Town clerk, added that he took it upon himself to remind young arrivals that they were here to do a job: "This isn’t college."

Clearly, the learning process continues.

"The little school that they give you for becoming a congressman doesn't really give you much information," said Garbarino. "It’s a really learning-on-the-job mentality."

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Watch that step

Mike Luckovich

Mike Luckovich

For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/nationalcartoons

Final Point

Abusive politics

The war over masks in schools reached a fever pitch in state lawmakers’ offices this week.

It was fueled in part by state Republican lawmakers, who earlier this week offered up a hostile amendment to an unrelated bill about teacher recruitment that would’ve attempted to end the school mask mandate. After a procedural vote stopped the amendment from moving forward, Republicans turned their ire on the Democrats in the majority — and parents who already had been fuming about the remaining mask requirement, quickly followed.

Wednesday morning, a video billboard truck showed up outside State Sen. James Gaughran’s office, featuring a series of messages directed at Gaughran, State Sen. Anna Kaplan, Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Education Commissioner Betty Rosa that ranged from "UNMASK OUR CHILDREN" to "MASKING IS CHILD ABUSE" to "ORGANS NEED OXYGEN MASKING IS ABUSIVE."

But the screens also showed two large Holocaust-era pictures, one featuring a soldier examining a young girl’s papers and another that portrayed a large crowd of soldiers issuing a Nazi salute, with one man who wasn’t saluting circled.

"Everyone thinks they’re going to ‘be this guy’ when the time comes. But the time came and they aren’t," the screen said, seemingly likening those who’ve encouraged mask wearing and who haven’t pushed for the mandate’s end to Nazi soldiers willing to salute and fall in line.

It was unclear who sent the truck, which featured the hashtag #seemesmile.

But the imagery drew a harsh rebuke from Gaughran and Kaplan Wednesday.

"An extreme element of the anti-vaccine movement has taken dangerous rhetoric to a new level of ugly," Gaughran said in a statement calling the truck outside his office a "stunt."

"Equating proven public health measures to the genocide of the Holocaust is wrong, deeply offensive, and inexcusable," he said.

Kaplan, meanwhile, called the truck signage "offensive and anti-semitic" and asked other elected Nassau County officials to "strongly condemn this vile stunt, because silence in the face of extremism is complicity."

Wednesday’s truck appearance came a day after staff members in Long Island Senate Democrats’ offices fielded calls, emails and social media messages from angry, often hostile, parents demanding that the masks come off.

Gaughran spokeswoman Marissa Espinoza said she spent a "very antagonistic day" on the phone with a "deluge of upset parents," who often cursed or became personal in their anger.

Perhaps the question is what — exactly — is "abusive."

— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

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