Adam Kuranishi, the Syosset Central School District’s assistant superintendent for human resources, provided an introduction for the Community Forum. (Photos by Jennifer Corr)

Syosset Central School District’s Anti-Bias Task Force Holds Community Forum

Parents, community members, faculty and students gathered inside South Woods Middle School in Syosset on Thursday, Feb. 8 to provide input and hear each other’s opinions amid a rise of tension caused by the Israel-Hamas war and subsequent incidents in the district.
The 8 p.m. meeting was arranged as a Community Forum from the Syosset Central School District Board of Education’s Anti-Bias Task Force.
The Board of Education voted in favor of establishing the task force during the Nov. 27 special meeting after antisemitic symbols were seen on a whiteboard at H.B. Thompson Middle School and a racial slur was written on a desk at Syosset High School early on in November.
North Shore Synagogue Rabbi Jaimee Shalhevet, local leader Dr. Uzma Syed (who was not present at the meeting) and Faith Lutheran Church and School Pastor Rebecca Sheridan serve as co-chairs of the Anti-Bias Task Force.

Members of the community were invited to share their ideas on how to prevent bias in Syosset Schools.

Among the goals of the task force, which is made up of community members and students, are to develop recommendations for an anti-bias plan; collect suggestions and input from the community and students; seek input from experts, community-based groups and non-profits; review existing anti-bias initiatives from other communities; review the district’s code of conduct, disciplinary process, accountability measures and Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) reporting procedures and make recommendations regarding revisions of improvement and present short term recommendations to the board this month, as well as longer-term recommendations for an anti-bias plan in April.
“We split our task force into five working groups,” Adam Kuranishi, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said at the start of the Community Forum. “We have one working group on best practices and existing initiatives. We have student experience that we’re exploring: family partnerships, the code of conduct and DASA reporting, and data collection.”
The idea of the Community Forum, Kuranishi explained, is for audience members to share their ideas to the task force.
“The purpose for tonight is really for us as the task force to listen to the ideas from the community,” Sheridan said, adding that other task force members were taking notes so that she could actively listen along with Rabbi Shalhevet.
Community members had two minutes to share their ideas without engaging in crosstalk, sharing personal stories (as bias incidents should be reported to a school administrator), and discussing unrelated topics. Audience members were also discouraged from applauding speakers.
Six community members went up to speak.
Community members expressed concerns regarding student’s rights to freedom of expression, district hiring practices, codifying the definition of Islamaphobia, displaying the Israeli flag, enforcement towards students involved with bias incidents, misinformation on social media and community safety.
“One of the things that I can emphasize with students about is the feelings they may have when a teacher, or a nurse, or an assistant principal, or a principal or anybody else, mentions Israel, has an Israeli flag on their desk,” said community member Ibrahim Khwaja, who was criticizing a lack of diversity in the district’s staff members. “If that person feels like that particular country has done wrong to them, their family or their community, and yet can not express themselves for fear of a failing grade or even a C or something that would harm their prospects, whether it’s going to college or anything else, they have no outlet. They have no way of going to somebody and saying something.”
Khwaja then recommended an anonymous reporting system.
Another community member, named Stephanie, commended the district for hosting a Holocaust survivor and assigning the book Linked by Gordon Korman to students, which is about a school that’s vandalized with swastikas, stating that it inspired students to ask their parents and guardians more questions.
Another community member, named Ira Rubin, said that what is happening in the district impacts the entire community.
“Never in my life have I ever thought I would be afraid to have a sign in front of my house supporting somebody,” said Rubin, who has lived in Syosset since 1978. “It’s not a political thing. [They are] a hostage. And every night I have to go out and take it down because we’re afraid something will happen. I belong to a men’s group at my synagogue called Hearing Men’s Voices. We’ve had about 10 different sessions talking. A lot has happened in the community.”
Before the meeting came to a close, Rabbi Shalhevet explained the task force’s next steps.
“We are looking for suggestions,” Rabbi Shalhevet said. “We have our sub-groups that are looking at best practices that have happened, our own data so that we’re not walking into this emotionally charged only. We are emotionally charged. I think that’s clear from everything that has been going on, including faces [being made] tonight.”
Rabbi Shalhevet added that the task force is looking into fact-driven data, successful programs from other districts and new ideas for the district that would change the status quo.
“Right now, nobody is happy,” Rabbi Shalhevet said.
The task force met again on Feb. 12 to discuss the findings of the community forum. It will present final recommendations to the Board of Education no later than April 2024.

Previous reporting from the Syosset Jericho Tribune:
Since October 2023, parents and community members have been expressing concerns at Board of Education meetings about a rise in bias at Syosset’s schools.
The meeting on Nov. 7 went on for about five hours, as parents and community members took turns at the podium to share their thoughts and dissatisfaction about recent events and the district’s actions before and after. In the meetings since, parents and community members continued to express their concerns about antisemitism and Islamophobia.
During the Nov. 20 meeting, parents and community members commented on how bias towards Muslim students has been overlooked for years, with some community members and parents stating that either themselves or their children have been targeted on school grounds.
During the Dec. 4 meeting, the Board of Education had to take a five-minute recess because outrage ensued among the attendees after a community member said in part, that “antisemitism and Islamophobia are rooted in Zionism.” During the recess, one man shoved another, and security had to break up what was almost a physical altercation.
At the Jan. 8 meeting, no attendees were able to voice their concerns during the Jan. 8 meeting because, at the beginning of the meeting, the Board of Education passed a resolution that temporarily suspended the audience to the public, which gave meeting attendees a chance to address the Board of Education. It will resume at the Feb. 12 Board of Education meeting.

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