Peirez, Hakimi Board of Education race to be decided on May 17

Peirez, Hakimi Board of Education race to be decided on May 17
Great Neck Board of Education Trustee Donna Peirez is running for re-election against challenger Emil Hakimi. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck School District)

Great Neck Board of Education Trustee Donna Peirez is running for re-election against district resident Emil Hakimi in a May 17 election.

The election will also include a $261.4 million budget for the 2022-23 school year that the board adopted in April.

Peirez, who was first elected to the board in 2016 to fill a vacant seat left by Monique Bloom, said in a letter to Blank Slate Media that protecting quality public education and promoting transparency throughout the district are her paramount concerns ahead of the May 17 election.

“All parents who live in Great Neck are entitled to a quality education for their children,” Peirez said. “In order for our students to continue to excel in school and beyond, we must preserve the creative, innovative and visionary programs we offer and continue to hire and retain the best teachers.”

Peirez, who previously served as a teacher at the Lakeville School for nearly three decades, said the school district’s “stellar reputation” is the driving force behind many families, including her own, to come to Great Neck. Her tenure as a board member has included helping navigate the district through the coronavirus pandemic and protecting the safety and well-being of its students.

“These experiences have helped me to understand the special families of this community, my community, in a unique manner,” Peirez said. “I am first and foremost an advocate for children. On their behalf, I am seeking another term on the Board of Education to continue championing public education.”

Hakimi, who has four children enrolled in the district, said concerns surrounding the school district’s curriculum inspired him to run for a seat on the school board.

Hakimi, in a letter to Blank Slate Media, said he heard from parents “about the introduction of socio-political indoctrination into our children’s curriculum and instruction.”

Hakimi said a slideshow allegedly part of an 11th-grade English class at North High School, which was circulated on social media, were one of the instances that motivated him to run. A handful of parents, students and teachers addressed the slides, which featured teachings of “white fragility” and racism, at a school board meeting.

The slides were included in an article on the website of Parents Defending Education, a conservative national organization that works to ensure schools do not promote “harmful agendas,” according to its site.

The group said the slides presented in Great Neck were “steeped in the tenets of critical race theory,” and some residents who spoke at the meeting seemed to agree.

Under a slide discussing racism in America, a quote reads, “White people benefit from this system, intentionally or unintentionally, which makes us all (technically) racist, myself included.” The slide also mentions that the word “racist” was used “as an adjective to describe certain language, beliefs, and policies as opposed to racist as a noun to label a person.”

Another slide headlined “white fragility” claims “white people harbor significant fragility when discussing race” and said some manifestations include “defensiveness or anger, emotional withdrawal, guilt and tears.”

Another slide called on students to explore “sensitive topics openly and honestly, view antiracism as a process to work toward and call out their own and others’ racist tendencies.”

The teacher who was said to have presented the slides and the class being taught were not named.

“We’re so adamantly denying that critical race theory exists in our schools when this was literally the definition of critical race theory,” Hakimi said in a phone interview.

School district officials said in response to the complaints at the school board meeting they would launch an investigation into the matter and previously addressed the issue at prior public meetings.

District Superintendent Teresa Prendergast reiterated her support and faith in the district’s administration and educators to provide students with quality education and keep its reputation intact.

“The district’s role is to guide students to see and consider differing perspectives so that they may make informed decisions and develop personal viewpoints,” Prendergast said in a statement. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure that the District provides all students with a diverse set of opportunities and tools needed to be successful in school and in all their future endeavors.”

“As previously shared publicly, viewpoint neutrality is the expectation of the Board of Education of the Great Neck Public Schools,” a statement from the Board of Education said.

Hakimi also said his stance on the adopted $261.4 million budget for the 2022-23 school year has been mistakenly portrayed through some social media posts, clarifying that he is in favor of passing the budget.

“I am unequivocally supportive of the budget passing, and I encourage all my supporters to vote in favor of the budget as well,” Hakimi said.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, both candidates said, parents and district stakeholders need to work together and prioritize the education the district provides to its students.

“We are all one community here, we all share the same instinct to want what’s best for our children,” Hakimi said. “So please, let’s all be kind to each other. Regardless of the outcome of this election, we must all be united for this common cause.”

“Whatever our diverse beliefs, our shared faith in our children overrides them all and binds us together,” Peirez said. “The job of our schools is to kindle our students’ imagination and grow their knowledge. We must pursue alliances among all stakeholders in our district, as well as work toward a consensus model of decision making. Transparency must always be our touchstone.”

The election will take place on May 17 with various polling places. Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. There are four polling locations for school district elections: E.M. Baker School, Lakeville School, Saddle Rock School, and South High School. Registered voters will only be permitted to cast a ballot at their assigned polling location.


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