BBP BOE RACE: Elizabeth Cavuto v. John Kroog (incumbent)

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The Suffolk County News compiled questions from the community on online forums.

Candidates were then emailed the questions and given a week to respond.

Below are their answers:

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?)

CAVUTO: Many BBP residents feel that the Board of Education has not been transparent, has not advocated for all students and parents, and has not honored and respected the beliefs of many community members regarding important issues and decisions. As a trustee, I would encourage open dialogue between the community and the Board. I would work tirelessly to listen to students, parents, residents and staff, reflect the community’s values, and advocate for all stakeholders.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

 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.

CAVUTO: Critical Race Theory is difficult to define as it means different things to different people. Generally, I believe it is a theory that racism exists in our society, and is a topic that is suited for higher education. I feel that our K-12 curriculum and policy should not include this type of divisive theoretical teaching. Instead, an environment of inclusion, acceptance and empathy should be fostered by exposing our students to diverse viewpoints and opinions, teaching about different cultures, and offering various clubs, activities, field trips, etc. to improve understanding of different groups.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

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.

CAVUTO: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion can be defined differently by different people. Generally, I believe that DEI in education should involve acknowledging and embracing differences and ensuring that every student is provided with equal opportunity for success. I feel that it is important to include this in our children’s education as the development of empathy and inclusion comes not only from the home, but from the school environment, as well. This can be done in various ways, including offering clubs to learn about differences and help all students feel accepted, utilizing diverse materials in our curriculum, studying diverse viewpoints, and reviewing our curriculum on a regular basis to ensure that a variety of viewpoints are being included.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

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.

CAVUTO: Social and Emotional Learning is a broad term which involves helping students understand and manage their emotions and develop empathy, interpersonal skills and responsible decision-making skills. While I believe that social and emotional learning begin at home, a strong home-school connection is important in order to continue to foster the development of these skills as our students grow. Our K-12 curriculum and programs should encourage social and emotional growth for students.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

 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?

CAVUTO: Our schools should be a place where every child feels safe, accepted and respected. I believe that our staff and administrators work to provide an environment that is welcoming and supportive for all students.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

 In June 2019, New York removed the religious exemption for students regarding vaccinations. Do you believe the state was within its scope to mandate vaccinations for students? Please explain your reasoning.

CAVUTO: I believe that parents have the fundamental right to decide what is best for their children, and that this right should be protected. As such, I would be an advocate for parental rights when it comes to the state potentially adding additional vaccines to the current list of mandated inoculations.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

Do you believe the COVID-19 vaccine should be mandated for children aged 5 and above? Why or why not? 

CAVUTO: I do not believe that the COVD-19 vaccine should be mandated for children age 5 and above at this time, as it is currently under Emergency Use Authorization and has not yet been FDA approved. With that being said, I believe in the fundamental right of a parent to decide what is best for his or her child. If and when the COVID-19 vaccine receives FDA approval for ages 5 and above, I do not believe it should be mandated for school. This is a decision that should be made by a parent and the child’s trusted doctor.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

 Do you believe that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccines should be mandatory to attend public school?

CAVUTO: This vaccine is currently mandated by New York State law. Therefore, the Board of Education has no ability to change this long-standing mandate.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

 Do you believe any votes or policies decided by the Board of Education should be kept private or classified from the parents/community? If so, what circumstances would warrant this?

CAVUTO: The Board of Education should follow all NY State open meeting laws. It is crucial that the Board maintain transparency with the community in order to foster a trusting relationship by discussing allowable topics in public. Open Meeting Laws specifically state what topics a school board must discuss privately, including matters of safety, litigation, collective negotiations, etc.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

 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?

CAVUTO: Many community members feel that their voices have not been heard over the past two years. They feel frustrated that our current Board has refused to advocate for them and appears to lack empathy toward the many families who have disagreed with the Board’s decisions. This is especially true regarding issues such as live streaming/in-person classes in the Fall of 2020 and masking requirements. Current members of our Board voted to mandate masks in August of 2021 before New York State DOH announced a statewide mask mandate in schools. Although the Board of Education must follow state mandates, they have the ability to wait for those mandates to be implemented before they act. In addition, they have the responsibility to contact state officials to advocate for local control on a variety of issues. Our Board was petitioned and asked on numerous occasions to advocate for parents’ rights and local control regarding COVID-19 issues, but only responded to the community’s request once by writing a vague letter to NY State officials.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

What is your definition of Parental Choice? What is included in parental choice and what is beyond its scope? Do you believe Parental Choice applies to curriculum, attendance, homework? 

CAVUTO: I believe that Parental Choice is the parent’s right to choose what is best for his or her child. For me, this includes educational and medical decisions. Teachers and administrators are clearly the experts when it comes to curriculum and teaching methodologies, and their opinions and knowledge should be respected. At the same time, I believe parents should be aware of what their children are learning and should have a voice in major decisions regarding these issues. A strong partnership between our schools and parents is essential so that both staff and families feel respected and can work together for the best interest of our children. Medical decisions should be made by a parent in consultation with their family doctor, not via government mandate or school district directive.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

Would you support additional investment into the BOCES/trades program at BBP High School so that more students are able to pursue BOCES education in 11th and 12th grade? If yes, where do you think the funding should come from? 

CAVUTO: I support investing in the education of all BBP students including those who want to pursue a BOCES/trade program. Our students have a variety of strengths and interests which should be nurtured, and as a BOE trustee, I would advocate for these programs in order to help every student reach his or her goals and full potential.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

 Anti-bullying is a strong component of the Bayport Blue Point 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?

CAVUTO: Our community should have no tolerance for bullying or disrespect of any kind. I take pride in my integrity as a parent and community member. I believe in treating others with respect and empathy, no matter our similarities or differences. I am open-minded and able to have honest conversations with people who share my views and those who have opposing views on various topics. I have taught my children these values and am proud of the people they are growing up to be.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

What endorsements have you received from organizations, elected officials, or other community leaders? 

CAVUTO: I have a number of letters of support from various organizations which are being finalized and should be released in the coming days

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

Do you believe only someone who is a parent can themselves can serve on the Board of Education? 

CAVUTO: While I believe it is helpful for Board members to be parents, I do not think it is necessary. Parents often have a thorough understanding of the school district and are deeply invested in the success of the district’s students. However, I feel the most important qualities a school board member should possess include honesty, transparency, and the ability to listen to others, communicate effectively and treat others with respect.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

 Do you think more informal meetings should be held with Board of Education members to communicate ideas with the community? (e.g. a meeting in the public library)

CAVUTO: It is essential for the Board of Education to receive input from parents and community members. Parents should be involved in key decisions in our district as much as possible. One way to do this would be to conduct informal meetings and I would support this idea as a BOE trustee.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

 Do you feel Dr. Hearney and the Board carried out appropriate actions in enforcing the mask mandate? If not, how you feel it should have been addressed?

 CAVUTO: Our district’s September opening plan for the 2021-2022 school year included mandating masks for our K-12 students. This plan was approved by the BBP Board members who were present in a unanimous 5-0 vote on 8/17/2021, before the NYS DOH issued a statewide school mask mandate on 8/27/2021. I understand that a school district must follow the state’s laws and mandates. However, a district should not make medical decisions, such as masking students, unless and until mandated by the government.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

 Do you believe COVID-19 was a serious threat to the community and specifically our students?

CAVUTO: There is no doubt that COVID-19 has been a real and serious health threat. We know that the risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 varies from person to person. Although there can be exceptions, the latest data and research appears to show that the overall risk to young children is low. Even with this said, every family should be able to make their own risk assessments and decisions regarding COVID-19.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

Do you support the redistricting plans presented by Dr. Hearney, commonly known as the Princeton Plan?

 CAVUTO: Our district is facing declining enrollment and this issue must be explored and addressed. It is my understanding that the Princeton Plan would not provide a substantial savings and I believe elementary age children in a family should attend the same school. For these reasons, I would not support the Princeton Plan at this time. However, I would be interested in exploring other cost-saving measures in response to our declining enrollment.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

  1. Do you support bringing back the 5th grade Washington D.C. trip?

CAVUTO: I am unaware of the specifics of this trip. However, I strongly support experiences, such as field trips, that enhance our students’ education, provide academic and social experiences outside of the classroom, and create traditions for our community.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

  1. Would you renew Dr. Hearney’s contract if the Board was in a position to do so? Why or why not?

CAVUTO: As a Board of Education trustee, I would work collaboratively and effectively with any and all other board members and administrators in order to provide the best possible educational experience for our students.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

We’ve sadly met with great tragedy in our school district this year with multiple suicides. What programs would you support to implement to help parents, guardians, caregivers identify at-risk students? Why initiatives or programs would you support to help students seek and receive help for mental illness? 

CAVUTO: Our small, tight-knit community has suffered devastating losses this year. I would first look to our BBP mental health professionals to ensure they have the staff and resources needed to support all K-12 students. I would also be interested in exploring possible activities and/or curriculum to provide mental health support for our children, including evidence-based programs that focus on healthy coping and problem-solving skills, promoting connectedness within the school community, and identifying warning signs. In addition, it is important to note that our children have been under tremendous stress over the last two years. It is imperative that we provide not only robust mental health support, but also a more “normal” school experience. I would advocate for a continued return to normalcy as this would be one of the most valuable steps we can take to provide our children with a positive and enjoyable educational experience.

KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

Do you feel parents should be able to insist that a book they find objectionable be removed from the school library? 

CAVUTO: School libraries are an invaluable resource for our students and should include age-appropriate books on a wide variety of topics to enhance our children’s education. If parents feel a certain book is objectionable for their child, I believe an open dialogue should occur between those parents and the teacher and/or district in order to decide whether this book is appropriate for their child.

 KROOG: DID NOT RESPOND

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