Lake Placid Board of Education member Colleen Locke first shared concerns she heard from teachers, parents and other community members during a board meeting on April 13. Some people worried that by approving the position, Lake Placid would be “politicizing our classrooms” or spending money that could otherwise be spent on helping students from low-income families, according to Locke.
“They questioned the timing of it,” Locke said. “They would like to know what the purpose and the goal of having someone specific for social studies, and the justification for it.
“There is a concern with the current climate in our country right now and various movements that maybe the whole push behind all of this is to bring in a lot of the social issues right now that are causing upheaval, and parents are concerned about that,” she continued. “One mother was concerned that with the age of her child, if there are these topics that are being discussed or brought into the room, her child would not have developed enough critical thinking skills to make their own opinion.”
The board agreed to set aside up to $25,000 in the 2021-22 school budget, but how exactly that funding will be used is to be determined.
A public hearing on the school district’s more than $20.7 million budget will be held on May 4 in Lake Placid. The plan goes before voters on May 18. The school’s fiscal year begins on July 1.
Concerns from community
Locke said of the people she spoke with, “most of them felt that if any money were to be spent on anything, that unique to Lake Placid is the socioeconomic gap that we have in our community.”
As an example, Locke noted that there are children who “discreetly go home with a backpack full of food to get them through the weekend.” She also said she’s heard from parents of LGBTQ students who are being bullied.
“I personally feel if we’re going to spend money on anything, I feel we need to look at those avenues, whether it be allocating funding in the fall to buy school supplies for those kids that can’t afford it, and dumping 10 to 15 thousand dollars into doing that every September,” she said. “I think in a nutshell, parents want to know what the direction is, and they want it focused on what the needs of our community is and not necessarily the needs of a national movement.”
During the board’s discussion on April 13, board members were mixed on this issue.
Board member Joan Hallett-Valentine said she thought it would be good to have someone “from the outside looking in” to see “where we are lacking in social studies.”
“I just hate the idea of jumping in with a full-time social studies teacher,” she said.
Board President Richard Preston expressed concern that picking one specific department might make teachers feel that they’re not doing a good enough job already.
Board member Martha Spear said she feels there should be a consultant, but the scope of their work should be clear, and perhaps not just limited to social studies.
Board member Daniel Cash, who attended a high school in Atlanta, said his school had mostly Black students and he took civics.
“That enriched my experience,” he said. “One of the things we have the opportunity to do here is if we can find ways to enrich programming, even if we don’t have that diverse class base, maybe we can enrich programs so they can maybe get a broader perspective from those courses even though what they have here is sometimes a very narrow perspective.”
However, Cash agreed that it was “a little scary” to just hire a full-time person without a specific scope of work.
In response to the board’s discussion earlier this month, two people in favor of the funding being used for DEI goals submitted comments to the board.
“Our country has indeed been in the midst of massive social upheaval,” wrote one of those people, Julie Lawrence. “Much of this is centered around race. Hundreds of people participated in a Black Lives Matter march up Main St. (last) summer. Agree or disagree, this issue is on our doorstep. Racism exists here. It is pervasive and ingrained in much of the culture. Are we hoping to educate informed citizens who have the ability to think critically about complex issues and to empathize with and understand the experiences of others? To look at our history critically in order that we can improve? I hope so.
“Our students, faculty and administrators live in an overwhelmingly white area,” she continued. “To pretend that this does not influence the learning and social experience is to bury our heads in the sand. As various board members mentioned, many students who graduate and go on to college or to live in more diverse areas report a kind of culture shock. As I listened to the school board discuss this, it was clear that there is not a consensus on how to improve the issue. A consultant who specializes in this particular field would be an excellent place to start.”
Beth Guglielmi, a teacher in the Saranac Lake Central School District whose children attend school in Lake Placid, submitted a video response.
“I’m glad that board members are aware of the barriers lower-income students face and want to help them,” she said. “To say that we should focus on that instead of racial diversity is upsetting. To put those two groups as rivals is wrong.”
Guglielmi said getting better at treating people of color fairly is just as important as treating kids from lower-income families, or LGBTQ kids, fairly.
“I would recommend that the board members who are uncomfortable with the Lake Placid school community learning about reducing racism maybe do some grappling with the topic themselves,” she said.
In response, Locke said “at no point” did she exclude race as an important issue.
“We know there are children who do not have food, do not have clothing and may not have adequate housing. Those are things that are concrete and we can say are happening,” she said. “If there are actual things that are happening that you could put on an equal pedestal with the opportunity gap, then we need to address those because they are very important. If there’s something out there that there’s documentation of a child being bullied because of their race, then we need to know about it. We don’t want any of our students to be bullied or feel that they’re outsiders.
“I don’t think that within our two buildings that there’s this inherent issue of bullying or racism that’s taking place,” she added. “We’d be naive to think that yes, there’s probably some in our community, but I don’t think it’s widespread. I think as a whole, we’re good people, and it’s not run rampant in our community.”