The Suffolk County News asked the community in online forums to submit questions for the candidates and spent a week collecting and compiling them.
The candidates were then emailed the questions and given a week to respond.
Here are their answers:
What endorsements have you received from organizations, elected officials, or other community leaders?
NF: I am honored to have received the endorsement of multiple law enforcement agencies, including SCPBA, NYPD-DEA, SDA, OBC-PBA, CSEA Local 870 Connetquot CSD 8769, St. Joseph’s CYO, Connetquot FOC, Moms for Liberty, SOS, LI BOE Patriot Takeover and Unmask the Kids-NY.
SMITH: It’s been an honor to have my former teachers, and all the educators of the Connetquot Teacher’s Association, vest their trust in me with their endorsement. I’ve also been endorsed by the National Association of Social Workers, which as a social worker dedicated to service, is also extremely meaningful to me. Additionally, I received the backing of Run for Something, which advocates for young people to bring their perspectives to local government.
What do you find problematic or lacking in the current Board of Education’s performance in serving the community? How will electing you to the Board specifically address that deficit?
(For incumbents: what have you accomplished in your tenure as a trustee that you feel has had great impact on the community?)
NF: I have been a big advocate of transparency within our district. I truly feel we cannot operate effectively and do our absolute best for the children we serve without having clear, honest conversations. I believe the board should periodically participate in board retreats.
In order to be fully transparent, as an incumbent I have authorized the disclosure of the least-redacted communications that are not subject to mandatory concealment under state and federal laws. I have also urged fellow trustees and administration to be transparent in their communications with the community.
SMITH: (**edited to meet editorial policy. To be resubmitted to comply) As a Board Trustee, I would do everything I can to unify, not divide, our community. I’d listen to all stakeholders, not just those that align with my personal and political beliefs, and I’d foster a collaborative and professional environment both within and outside the Board of Education.
I do not think that it is the place of a Board of Education to aggressively second-guess educators, to influence hiring based on personal and political biases, or to do anything else that undermines the functioning of Connetquot’s schools. If I’m elected, these political games will stop.
Please define, in your own words, what Critical Race Theory (CRT) is.
Please explain what you believe its role, if any, is appropriate the K-12 curriculum of your school district. If you do not believe it has a role in the K-12 curriculum, please explain why.
NF: Critical Race Theory is a complex college-level curriculum that is usually taught in law school or a postgraduate university setting. Various aspects of CRT have been criticized by legal scholars and jurists across the political spectrum for its divisive nature. Children are just beginning to learn the rules of formal logic and hone their critical-thinking skills as they become young teenagers. They have not quite developed the ability to analyze the concepts embedded within CRT. The real issue is that no child should feel guilt based solely on the color of their skin. I do not believe any child should feel any anguish over the way God made them. Components of CRT have been implemented in schools throughout the state, such as in the form of Restorative Justice Programs. Programs like this may appear beneficial on paper, but when implemented, they fall short and fail to address the behavior issues of the student. As a result, the students do not learn from the experience in a positive way. The statistics from administration did not support the continuance of the program; therefore, all five sitting BOE trustees voted to suspend the program.
SMITH: Critical Race Theory is a collegiate-level theory, often taught in law schools, examining how race interacts with law and American society. I do not support introducing Critical Race Theory into the curriculum in Connetquot. I believe it should remain at the collegiate level, which it is best academically suited for.
Please define, in your own words, what Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) is.
Please explain what you believe its role, if any, is appropriate in the K-12 curriculum of your school district. If you do not believe it has a role in the K-12 curriculum, please explain why.
NF: It is important to acknowledge the varied cultural, linguistic and life experiences of all races within our buildings. No child should feel “different” in a negative way than their fellow students—that is where inclusion comes in. Every single person is special and unique, and every single person should have equal opportunities to succeed. No one person should be left out of that, no matter what their race, gender, religion or any other trait. The issue exists, I believe, because the collaborative term, "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion" means something entirely different from what "diversity," "equity," and "inclusion" actually are individually. "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion" (DEI as a whole) has a root in Critical Race Theory and is now being used by NYSED to push divisive materials that teach our children to lump themselves into different categories depending upon their sex, race, religion, etc. DEI is part of the CRS-E curriculum framework from NYSED that highlights social justice issues and divides our children based upon their differences, which puts academic excellence on the back burner. Every child that is enrolled in our district should be offered the education, curriculum, services and experiences that will help them thrive to the best of their abilities.
SMITH: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, or DEI, is a broad term encompassing the general concepts of providing supportive schools for all students. DEI can mean providing accommodations to the disabled, it can mean ensuring all populations have a path to success, and it can mean teaching students to celebrate the many forms of diversity around them. I do believe that DEI is appropriate for our schools, as all students should feel included and welcome in our schools. Additionally, elements of DEI are state requirements, and I would not choose to take an unproductive path that could threaten our state aid.
Please define, in your own words, what Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) is.
Please explain what you believe its role, if any, is appropriate in the K-12 curriculum of your school district. If you do not believe it has a role in the K-12 curriculum, please explain why.
NF: Social emotional learning is a great concept since it seeks to teach children in K-12 to recognize the emotional needs of others and how to regulate their own emotions. This is important in building their relationship skills as it will help them make better decisions and be mindful of how those decisions impact others' wellbeing. However, NYSED is using SEL as another acronym to advance the social justice fight by emphasizing “educational equity.” SEL is also being used to bring corporations like Northwell Health into our schools to subject our children to mental health counseling for the stress and insecurities that we all know are so common (and normal) at their age. We need to be diligent in making sure the implementation of SEL steers clear of advancing social justice. For example, NYSED directs visitors to the SEL section of its website to an article titled, “Speaking Up Against Racism around the New Coronavirus” found at the Learning for Justice Website. This article on anti-Asian racism associated with the coronavirus brings you to a series of “Let’s Talk” webinars about white privilege, police violence, economic inequality and mass incarceration.
SMITH: Social & Emotional Learning, or SEL, is the practice in which the whole student as a dynamic, multifaceted person is considered and celebrated in the realm of education. SEL is proven to correlate with increased academic performance, improved attitudes and behaviors, increased engagement, increased positive feelings towards education, fewer negative behaviors, and reduced emotional stress. Increasing and protecting social emotional competencies could lead to happier, healthier students and employees alike.
What role do you believe the school district plays in protecting and accommodating LGBTQIA+ students? Do you have any examples where you believe the district overstepped or underplayed their role in serving in LGBTQIA+ students?
NF: I believe no child, or adult for that matter, should be treated differently for their sexual orientation or their identity. Schools, especially, should be a safe place for children to express themselves without ridicule or judgment. Connetquot School District, from what I have seen in my time serving on the Board of Education, works hard and does an excellent job to support and accommodate our children in the LGBTQIA+ community.
SMITH: Legally, the board is mandated to protect students from bullying and harassment. Students should be able to show up in this world without fear of retribution, simply for being true to themselves. I am a strong supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community, and I will always stand for inclusion and acceptance. Connetquot must be a welcoming and safe place for all students, and I believe that the school district should play a major role in ensuring that we are fostering an environment of acceptance and inclusion for our children while they are in school.
Do you believe the COVID-19 vaccine should be mandated for children aged 5 and above? Why or why not?
NF: This should be a parental choice in consultation with their primary caregiver. While rare in some cases, there are side effects and long-term challenges such as risk of myocarditis and pericarditis in adolescents and young adults after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. I believe parents should make their own informed decisions when it comes to the health and welfare of their children.
SMITH: I would not vote for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in Connetquot. I would not support such a mandate as a member of the Board of Education as I believe in parent choice.
Do you feel parents’ voices and concerns have been heard by the Board of Education in the past two years? If no, what concerns have not been heard and how would you have approached it differently?
NF: In the last two years, we have seen an influx of parent interest in particular to voicing their concerns at either Board of Education meetings or sending emails. I have also made myself accessible via Facebook where many parents have a direct line of communication with me. We have seen a variety of concerns, from masks to mental health concerns. I have been a big advocate of increasing our mental health staff in the district, especially now with the impact that COVID has had on many of our families. Sadly, these are challenging times, and we need to stay focused on our students so that they have every resource necessary to build upon a healthy learning environment.
The only concerns heard was the lack of transparency and email communication from administration. I have consistently advocated for proper transparency so that parental concerns can be addressed in a timely manner.
SMITH: (resubmitted to comply with policy) I believe in a few areas the current Board of Education has had deficits in properly serving our Connetquot children and community. Firstly, we are in a mental health crisis, and I do not believe the entire Board of Education has given this crisis the prioritization it deserves. It is unacceptable to be more focused on political issues than finding real solutions to the crisis of depression, anxiety, and suicide which the pandemic has only worsened among Connetquot kids. From being a social worker, to caring for my little sister, to struggling myself, I have an intimate understanding of what this mental health crisis is like, and I will not rest until I know Connetquot is doing everything it can to address it. Right off the bat, I’d like to see wellness check-ins implemented in all of our schools. Secondly, I believe that a culture of bullying, harassment, and attacks both at and beyond Board of Education meetings, especially in closed Facebook groups that purport to represent the community has been fostered. As a Board Trustee, I would do everything I can to unify, not divide, our community. I’d listen to all stakeholders, not just those that align with my personal and political beliefs, and I’d foster a collaborative and professional environment both within and outside the Board of Education. I do not think that it is the place of a Board of Education to aggressively second-guess educators, to influence hiring based on personal and political biases, or to do anything else that undermines the functioning of Connetquot’s schools. If I’m elected, these political games will stop.
Anti-bullying is a strong component of the Connetquot School District curriculum. How have you personally conducted yourself to minimize or admonish bullying? How have you influenced other parents to remain respectful? How do you demonstrate to your children (if any)/students proper decorum?
NF: I feel kindness and respect should be demonstrated in all capacities. As someone who has dedicated their career in law enforcement, I know the importance of these anti-bullying components. As a Board of Education Trustee, I feel I have conducted myself in an appropriate fashion and I demonstrate this in my support for students and staff. I show my respect and appreciation by attending many events hosted in our district that support the accomplishments and accolades of our amazing staff and students. Our anti-bullying initiative is not a stand-alone curriculum; it works in conjunction with community and families. We all need to do our part and that kindness matters.
One of the honors of serving on the Board of Education is that I have the opportunity to visit classrooms and school events. I love engaging with the students and seeing them in their school element. My approach is to always show kindness and enthusiasm, to show an interest in what they are doing and that their accomplishments matter. We have amazing students at Connetquot and it has always been the highlight of my time serving on the Board of Education.
SMITH: (resubmitted to comply with policy) Harassment, bullying, lying, choosing to degrade another for your own benefit, is plain wrong. When children display these behaviors, we should be offering them empathy and compassion, understanding that people are innately good, and their behaviors are a result of adversities they are experiencing in their life. When adults continue to behave in ways that degrade and diminish others, as a Social Worker, I understand that they are coming from a place of hurt within themselves. I choose to hold grace for them. Throughout my life and during my time campaigning for the Connetquot Board of Education, treating people with dignity, integrity, and respect, is above all else. I have chosen to run a fair and honest campaign. I do not engage with insults regarding how I speak, dress, my age, etc. Unfortunately, an absolutely vile youtube video, attacking my little sister (a current middle school student), dragging my supporters, threatening the safety of my family, and attempting to demolish my character was published. Thankfully, youtube took the video down, recognizing the safety concerns and lies purported by such a post. Even still, I choose not to respond with similar vitriol. Those close to me often become frustrated that I choose to turn the other cheek, however I continue to encourage all around me to lead by example. As my sister will soon be in high school, which is hard to believe, we have been talking a lot about bullying, and how we should treat one another. I share with her, that people won’t remember every conversation you may have with them, but they will remember how you make them feel. Seeing her big sister, someone who has been a pillar of support for her entire life, attacked and belittled has been confusing and hard for her. I will leave you with what I shared with her. “All you are in this world, at the end of the day, is how you treat others. It’s not what you accomplish, how much money you have, not your status. It’s the lives you touched, it’s standing for dignity, it’s what you do for others. You do this, not for the accolades, but so you know your short time on this earth was meaningful. No one can take that from you, no matter how hard they try”.
Do you believe only someone who is a parent can themselves can serve on the Board of Education?
NF: I believe that a candidate who is interested in serving on the Board of Education should have a vested interest in the community and children. This person doesn’t necessarily have to be a parent, but someone who has spent a significant time volunteering for local events where they have the opportunity and exposure to meet our community and understand the needs. It is through these experiences a candidate is able to acquire different focus points where they can contribute meaningful dialogue and discussion.
SMITH: No, I don’t believe this. Connetquot is a community home to many people with a stake in the school system, including but not limited to parents. Non-traditional caregivers for Connetquot students, like myself, are amongst them. Additionally, the perspectives of district taxpayers, recent graduates, and other potentially non-parent groups are valuable and important to ensuring Connetquot remains an excellent school system, and to shut out those perspectives from potential service on the Board of Education would be a disservice to the community.
Do you believe COVID-19 was a serious threat to the community and specifically our students?
NF: COVID-19 was a serious threat in particular to those that were most vulnerable. We have seen this virus act in ways that may be hard to explain. Unfortunately, the impact was multifaceted. We have seen families lose their main sources of income/businesses, students struggling with the virtual teaching module, parents adjusting their schedules to assist their children with the virtual model, teachers designing their teaching platforms to be virtual capable, and the mental health component. While your question was posed in the past tense, I feel there are more challenges ahead. We don’t know the effects of long-haul COVID or the true mental health impacts. We have to take this day by day and address the challenges ahead.
SMITH: Yes, it’s with a heavy heart we remember those we lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. The repercussions of the pandemic and the measures taken during that time are still being felt to this day, and mitigating the damaging effects on our community and in particular our children will be a key priority for me on the Board of Education.
Do you believe public officials (i.e. a member of the school board) have an obligation to be careful or reticent with their public voicing of political or highly controversial issues?
NF: Prior to this election, we knew very little of the candidates’ registered political party or beliefs. The focus was on their contributions to the community and what experiences they can bring of value to the Board of Education. Sadly, various news sources/media have politicized and polarized these elections.
For example, question 15 and 16 you posed should have no relevance. You specifically targeted two groups: Long Island Loud Majority and Moms for Liberty, and no mention of other outside groups that have taken an interest or influence on these upcoming elections. This is a diversion from the importance and value of real issues that should be addressed. The focus should be what can we offer to provide the best opportunities for students. The focus should be on education!
SMITH: (cut to meet editorial policy. To be resubmitted to comply) Members of the school board of education should conduct themselves in a thoughtful manner when choosing to voice political/controversial issues. It is important to take a stand, but it is also important to leave space for other voices. Sometimes, as people, our actions can cause people to not feel comfortable conversing. It is important that, as elected community members, we continue to be mindful about how we conduct ourselves on social media, and careful not to make others feel alienated.
What is your opinion of the Long Island Loud Majority?
NF: Loud Majority is an organization whose purpose is to bring patriots together to support freedom. They advocate on behalf of government officials who support their mission.
Parent involvement has increased over the last year bringing forth advocates from all areas of the political spectrum. These grassroots organizations as well as any political affiliation are protected by the First Amendment. My opinion is (to also include your question regarding my opinion on Mom’s for Liberty) every group or persons are protected under the First Amendment for freedom of speech. As a sitting Trustee, my role is to listen to the community and not place judgment or opinion.
SMITH: I am not highly familiar with this group; however, I am aware that it is listed as an anti-government extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which certainly is concerning.
What is your opinion of Moms for Liberty?
NF: On a personal note—as one of my endorsers, I personally appreciate all they do to advocate for students and parental rights.
SMITH: I am not familiar with this group; however, I have a deep respect for mothers, their unique struggles and perspectives, and the critical role they play in this community. My priority as a member of the Board of Education will be to listen to all Connetquot stakeholders, including moms, not outside groups.
What is your opinion of re-zoning the John Pearl Elementary school?
NF: There are many factors when it pertains to re-zoning. This is a yearlong process, as outlined in our policy. Our community’s opinion matters on this topic.
SMITH: This decision should be made carefully, with community input. I am looking forward to being a part of the discussion; however, I do understand that re-zoning John Pearl Elementary will not bring significant financial relief to the taxpayer, which raises some initial skepticism for me.
If elected, what measures will you take to limit tax increases in the school budget?
NF: The budget has a tremendous impact on the education/services offered to our students, livelihood of our staff, and financial impacts on our community. Many times it is a balancing act. We have to be mindful of the taxpayers but never compromise the integrity and exceptional educational experiences offered to our students. I will always advocate to stay under the cap and Connetquot has succeeded at doing this throughout my tenure.
SMITH: Thankfully, there is a tax increase limit currently in place. I hope to bring new, innovative ideas, ensure we are submitting paperwork for all grants we are eligible for, and consult with seasoned qualified leaders to explore all options.
How has technology (e.g. Chromebooks) affected students and their academic performance in Connetquot School District?
NF: Technology within schools is growing at a faster pace, now more than ever. Some children require assistive technology to thrive within the classroom environment. Technology can also create a more engaging learning environment. We do not want to become fully reliant, though, as reading and writing competency could decline as well as children's social interactions between students and their teachers.
SMITH: The abrupt switch to virtual instruction caused our students to lag in reading levels and general education benchmarks. Children, particularly at the lower grades, now need more attention from teachers and more resources to catch up. Dealing with the ramifications and mitigating the negative effects of virtual learning is a key priority of mine. Speaking to technology generally, I think in a world such as ours where technology plays a crucial role in day-to-day life, its involvement in education is key to preparing students for life as adults.
At what age do you believe curriculum regarding gender identity be taught, if at all?
NF: Curriculum regarding gender identity should be addressed at the secondary level where the content aligns with their maturity level. At the elementary level, I feel this is the time where students explore who they are at their own pace and acclimate to their educational environment. I believe we should be supportive of a child’s gender identity, but I do not necessarily support a curriculum for all students on this matter. I believe in traditional curriculum.
SMITH: I have confidence in our Connetquot educators and administrators to make responsible and age-appropriate curriculum decisions, and as a Board of Education member, will allow them the professional respect to make decisions such as this one, with oversight as needed.
Do you feel teachers should have at-will employment?
NF: No, I am against at-will employment in regards to teachers. I have been a union delegate and executive board member throughout my tenure as a police officer. I strongly support that employees have policies in place to protect their rights and employment. We need to be reminded that teacher contracts provide mutual reassurance regarding staffing in a given year. This could affect our most vulnerable and young children and class sizes.
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