In what was the first public forum since the federal (OCR) complaint against the Mamaroneck School District was made known parents, community activists and board members voiced their opinions on a topic that many had hoped never to confront in a diverse community such as Mamaroneck.
Rina Jimenez, whose son attends Central Elementary School, filed the complaint against the District last December after she noticed a disproportionately high number of minority children in her son’s kindergarten class. In August 2012, the OCR concluded that the District had applied its criteria “inconsistently and subjectively,” and that non-white students had, in fact, been disproportionately assigned to the class in question in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
As part of the agreement negotiated with the OCR, the District must submit a breakdown of students assigned to kindergarten classes by race and national origin in September of 2012 and 2013.
Keiko Tannenbaum, co-president of the Central School Parent Teacher Association (PTA), praised the efforts of the District to work with the parents who initially complained about the kindergarten class and pointed to the District’s effort to educate the community about the kindergarten procedure by holding an event on the topic.
School Board President Nancy Pierson apologized to staff at Central School, acknowledging that many of them had to weather the blows of the community’s reaction to the complaint.
“I commend the way they handled this,” she said.
And, in reading the numerous comments posted on local websites in response to the OCR complaint, Pierson said she came to one conclusion: “Our District values diversity.”
Luis Quiros, a community activist and author of An Other’s Mind, argued that systems of racial disparity were more deeply rooted in the District.
“The school district is contaminated with systems and subsystems that protect segregation…a laundry list by the district of activities and meetings held on behalf of Latino families are disguises of power tactics organized to minimize Latino complaints,” he said.
Others directed their ire toward fixing what they saw as a broken system.
The parent of a child who was previously in the District, Eleanor Sherman, admonished school officials for their “appalling actions.”
“I am offended that you all are sitting there complementing each other….you have an obligation to the law,” she said, continuing, “There are other parents that are too frightened to speak on their child’s behalf because they’re afraid of retribution.”
But not all parents were aggrieved with the school’s actions.
A Central School parent, Bijan Anvar, said, “I’m a minority…I don’t feel like anyone was segregated here.”
He went on to say, “All my experiences have been positive…I think there’s a lot of parents that feel the way I do.”
Midway through the forum, the public comment session turned contentious when a parent identified by his first name only, Kurt, approached the podium to speak. As he began to speak, the Central Elementary yearbook in hand, someone shouted from the audience, “Is he doing that again,” referencing the public outcry after pictures of the school yearbook surfaced in local media.
Kurt then directed his comments to Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaps, referencing an incident that occurred at a school where he previously worked in New Hampshire.
Deemed a personal attack against the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Anthony Minotti yelled “Sit down” several times, before Kurt, with Jimenez in tow, stormed out of the meeting, frustrated by the interruptions.
As the comment session continued, Jonathan Sacks, a member of the school’s Selection Committee and Citizens Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC) who has two children in the school district, said that he came to Mamaroneck because he felt it was, “very important to raise children in a diverse community.”
“Unfortunately the way this thing has come up it’s going to limit the way we deal with diversity and race,” he said.
School Board member Stan Futterman, an attorney in private practice, cited an example of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle Schools as an example of the complexities inherent to racial issues within school districts.
The 2007 case involved the Seattle School District being taken to task for their method of determining who would be admitted to certain popular schools. The “tiebreaker” would admit whichever race of student that would restore the school’s racial balance as closely as possible to a predetermined percentage that mimicked the diversity of the student population as a whole. The original decision of the Supreme Court was overturned.
“Judges don’t agree on requirements,” he said, continuing, “The most important issue was for us to do what we think is right…we’re going to try and define policy that we think makes sense.”
Board member Robin Nichinsky, a former member of the Mamaroneck-Larchmont Human Rights Commission and Minority Achievement Task Force, said that, “the issues are very close to my heart and I care about them.”
“We recognize that these classes were imbalanced,” she said.
Board member Ann LoBue said, “I support the policy committee looking at this so it doesn’t happen again.”
Pierson said, “When we look at policy, we look at law, educational impact and who we want to be as a community…We’re not going to come up with a solution that pleases everyone.”
Referring to future policy committee meetings, Pierson said that, “We welcome the community at large to be part of the discussion.”
After the forum, the mother of three boys who had attended Central School who gave only her first name, Phyllis, said, “I am so supportive of the school district…it’s nothing but a top-notch education.” She identified herself as a minority.
“I think Ms. Jimenez is looking for a multi-million dollar settlement,” she said.