More than 100 people attended the East Williston Board of Education meeting Monday as some angry residents voiced their concerns over recently surfaced statements made by a former district official.
David Casamento, an assistant superintendent for the East Meadow school district who has since been reassigned, made controversial comments about how Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or DEI, are taught in Nassau County schools.
Casamento was a director of technology in East Williston until he left the district in 2017.
Over a dozen attendees approached the board while parents and other East Williston residents made it clear that they lack trust in the board, which has yet to open an investigation into the “covert” agenda Casamento claimed to have pushed in an undercover video released by the non-profit journalism enterprise Project Veritas March 8.
Project Veritas is an ultra-conservative group that has gained notoriety for recording undercover videos and releasing deceptively edited versions of them.
According to a Project Veritas video posted on Instagram, comments made by Casamento included: “I think I said this before, but people don’t give up power, you have to take it from them…you stop hiring those types of people [conservatives]…we created a whole rubric for hiring in light of DEI.”
The video continues, showing him saying: “It’s all secret. So, I would rank them [conservatives] so low [in their interview process] that their score couldn’t possibly raise them up to the level of moving on to the cabinet.”
The video on Project Veritas’ profile, which as over 1.4 million followers on Instagram, has garnered over 622,000 plays.
Some teachers and parents agreed that Project Veritas’ video had been edited, simply highlighting the most revealing comments, but a number of parents were nevertheless outraged.
East Williston parent Ellie Konstantatos was among those who attended the meeting to condemn the board.
“This school district has the responsibility to step in the shoes of the parents,” she said. “We do not feel comfortable sending our children to a school where we’re finding [inappropriate books about sexuality] again and again. And I do believe that Project Veritas does clip and piece their videos together, but what was said was said, and we have to know that our school district is safe and secure for all of us, not just a specific few.”
Andrea Gallo, a parent and longtime resident of East Williston, expressed her frustration with the DEI initiative, which she claimed teaches children that they are “either racist or anti-racist — no in-between.”
“Diversity is my life,” she said, “my children are 50% Russian and 50% Italian, and we celebrate all of the Catholic and Jewish holidays faithfully…why does [Casamento] support a speaker who would promote racial activism? What if a student didn’t want to be an activist? My kid couldn’t care less; he just wants to play baseball. That’s all his mind is on. Give him a break.”
Gallo continued: “I resent and am deeply upset that this person is guiding the minds of our children and can make such a presumption about the community they serve…stop judging, be open-minded, lead with kindness and believe in the best in people and the community that you serve. Leave behind the negative, judgmental approach.”
Meryl Fordin, a physical education teacher at North Side School in East Williston called for the board to affirm its support for the district’s faculty and staff.
“The teachers and support staff in East Williston are committed to making sure all students are welcomed, supported, respected and provided with every opportunity to learn and thrive,” she said.
Fordin went on to speak about the Project Veritas content, saying the organization has used deceptive practices in the past and seeks to stoke division: “What these videos actually show are educators doing their jobs; teachers making good faith attempts to serve their students and communities while expressing caution and awareness that these are very sensitive issues… [Project Veritas and its allies] threaten our students, the cohesion of our community and the integrity of our profession.”
From those claiming that students’ developing minds are not suitable for the teachings of DEI to the teachers looking to protect their role as trustworthy educators, it was apparent that this dilemma has created division in East Williston.
The board did not make any comments that suggested the opening of an investigation.
In responding to comments from parents about inappropriate library materials, Board President Mark Kamberg explained that library texts are chosen based on “age appropriate recommendations from a variety of professional organizations, including the American Library Association, School Library Journal, and Common Sense Media.”