BBP BOE RACE: Sandi Kanne v. Jenna Kennedy

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The Suffolk County News  asked the community to submit questions for the Board of Education candidates on online forums.

Once compiled, the questions were emailed to the candidates and given a week to respond.

Here 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?  

KANNE: Board of Education Trustees volunteer their time to our community. I have had a great working relationship with the Board for a decade, no matter what its makeup. I have always found Trustees to be very available to speak with community members. Other districts require residents to sign up to speak before BOE meetings and are strict with 3-minute time limits. BBP has been much more lenient and conversational when it comes to people who speak at the podium, and I appreciate this environment. Neighbors needn’t come with prepared speeches, but may respond to questions and concerns as they arise while listening to presentations and discussions on the dais (at each meeting, there are two opportunities for community input: one at the beginning and one and the end). The Administrators and Trustees are often able to respond to questions and concerns immediately, rather than listening to 3-minute speeches and responding privately, and I hope to continue this casual atmosphere while focusing on the work of the district.

KENNEDY: The current Board of Education has not demonstrated that they have the ability to actively listen to the people that they were elected to serve.  It is one concept to hear what community members say but it is another to take what someone has said and respond appropriately, with care to the message being presented.  As a physical therapist, I have learned over the course of my career the importance of actively listening to patients as they describe their needs and symptoms and how I can best advocate for them.  I will bring this skill to the Board of Education as we listen to all members of the community.  

 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.

KANNE: Critical Race Theory is the belief that racism is systemic within the US legal structure to prevent the success of racial minorities (specifically, Black Americans) and further the socioeconomic divide and political inequities among White people and minority people. It is debated in law schools and is not part of the K-12 curriculum. CRT should not be conflated with efforts to promote diversity.

KENNEDY: Critical race theory can encompass many definitions for each person but it has its genesis in the belief that racism exists in our country. Critical race theory requires critical thinking skills and analysis that are beyond the skill set for a K-12 learner.  It does not belong in our curriculum. The focus of our schools should be teaching our children how to think, not what to think.   The schools should be focusing primarily on an academically rigorous curriculum that neither leans to the left nor to the right and is devoid of any political bias while focusing on preparing our students for graduation with skills that will be invaluable to them in the college or career of their choice.

 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.

KANNE: Diversity: Celebrating and embracing the differences in our cultures, races, socioeconomic status, ethnicities, sexual orientations, languages, ages, religions, neurodiversities, abilities, gender identities, gender expressions, etc.

Equity: leveling the playing field. e.g., all students participate in field day, but my asthmatic son takes his inhaler before running.

Inclusion: making sure that everyone has a place and is able to fully participate in an experience, e.g., integrated opportunities at lunch and recess to have a buddy and strengthen peer-to-peer exposure and relationships.

There is a beautiful analogy in literature called mirrors and windows. Students deserve to see themselves and their own culture reflected in stories (mirrors) to build their own identities, and also have a glimpse into worlds outside of their own lived experiences (windows). The combination of these two affords them a confident foundation through which to build their world beyond the BBP borders.

KENNEDY: Diversity, equity and inclusion can mean many things to different people.  Five years ago, our society was not as divided and polarized as we are now. I think it is important for children to see that regardless of the past, there is more that we have in common than any amount of differences that may exist.  As parents we can model this at home for our children as well by teaching our children to love and accept everyone. Our school environment should be one of welcoming and acceptance for all students. By emphasizing our commonalities, this makes our school and community strong.

We can also have activities that would enable students to not only learn about different cultures but to actually appreciate the distinctive aspects of each.

 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.

KANNE: Social-Emotional Learning includes soft skills necessary to grow, interact, collaborate, and thrive in a group setting. SEL has five main components: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. It is essentially helping students to become comfortable in the social setting- developing empathy, maintaining a safe environment, taking cues for how to assist to make learning successful for everyone, and building a foundation to become productive members of society. These skills are inherent and important parts of the pre-K-12 curriculum and beyond.

KENNEDY: Social and emotional learning can be defined differently in each grade, curriculum and between even between each teacher.   While I believe that learning to communicate effectively and regulating emotions can be a positive thing, I believe it should not be part of a standardized curriculum.   It should be a more organic time where if a teacher knows a child is struggling or has had a bad day, the teacher can take a child aside and talk with them, after which the teacher may then decide if the child should be referred to the school counselor, perhaps even discussing what was shared with the parents. It should be something that a good teacher does automatically without the need for a curriculum. There are many topics within the social emotional learning curriculum that should be modeled and taught at home exclusively by the parents. As parents, we should be the most impactful teachersto our children both in what we say and how we model our behavior to them.  

 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?

KANNE: LGBTQIA+ students are just that – students. How could a district possibly overstep its role in serving the needs of any student?

KENNEDY: I believe that our school district should protect and accommodate all students, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation and socio economic status.  All students should have mental health resources and counselors readily available for access.  I have no examples of where the district has overstepped or underplayed its role but I would welcome any examples from community members about how we can improve in protecting and accommodating all students. 

 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.

KANNE: This is a question for lawyers and legislators, as challenging the law takes place in voting booths and legislatures. It is not a function of the school board

KENNEDY: I believe that every parent has the right and responsibility to decide along with consultation from their doctor what is best for their child.The school board does not have any control over government mandates.  However, as a potential school board member, I personally feel that it is wrong to bar a certain segment of the population from attending school because of their religious views. I will always advocate for parental rights and choice.

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

KANNE: This is not something that is within the scope of any singular district to decide. It will be made at the state and/or federal level.

KENNEDY: Again, the issue of mandating vaccines is above and beyond the scope and authority of a local school board member.  However, I do believe that a Board of Education should advocate on behalf of parents to the Department of Health, Governor and Department of Education to encourage parental choice whenever possible.   At this time, the COVID 19 vaccines for children are not FDA approved and only under emergency use authorization so these discussions are premature. If I am elected to trustee, should we be faced with the potential of a mandate, I will always advocate for parental choice.   

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

KANNE: There’s nothing to believe. It is mandatory in New York State unless the student possesses a valid medical exemption to immunization.

KENNEDY:  It is already New York State Law and a local Board of Education cannot challenge this. 

 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?

KANNE: These votes are already made publicly. Any new policies, or revisions to existing ones, have at least two public readings before being adopted. The policies are attached to the meeting agenda in BoardDocs and available for review by the public before each meeting.

KENNEDY: The only votes and policies that should be kept private would be if it violated an individual’s privacy or perhaps if the vote was regarding a certain student's individual family situation. The Board should also follow all NYS open meeting laws which specifically discuss what topics must be kept private.  With regard to any other decisions, the Board should be absolutely transparent. 

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? 

KANNE: Yes

KENNEDY: There is a difference between hearing voices and concerns and actually following up with their concerns. When observing the current board meetings, I heard one parent in particular ask what the Board of Education could do to address the concerns that the collective group of parents had over finding creative ways to give children a more normalized school experience before the mask mandate ended, specifically the elementary aged children.   The same parent followed up two weeks later at a second Board of Education meeting and asked the same question regardingwhat the board could do to address the concerns. I would have hoped that during the weeks in between board meetings, there would have been some communication with this particular parent to address the concerns that were initially voiced without having the parents raise the same issue again. If a parent brings a concern to a general meeting, I would task a trustee to follow up via email or phone call in the week or two after the meeting.

 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?

KANNE: Parental choice always exists, but we live in a collaborative society where choices have consequences.

KENNEDY: Parental choice is the fundamental right of a parent to decide what is best for the nurturing and growth of their child, be it medical or educational decisions on more sensitive topics. Parental choices should be expressed and heard by the Board of Education before decisions are made. Parental rights warrant just as much consideration as state laws, requirements and other academic complexities. Parents should also have the right to “opt in” to certain more sensitive topics or surveys. When parents work as a team with the child’s teacher, our children reap the benefits.

 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?

KANNE: Thirteen (13) new BOCES spots are included in the 2022-2023 budget, and I support having pathways for all students to thrive. BOCES attendance and desire for those spots should be constantly evaluated and adjusted with need.

KENNEDY: I would support additional investments into the BOCES/trades program as I think this is very enriching and rewarding. This is a worthy investment that would reap many long term benefits for our students and the community, which is faced with labor shortages in a number of areas. As a board trustee, I would collaborate with the rest of the board to examine the budget closely to see where funding could be provided.

 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?

 KANNE: Lead with empathy. People get fearful and angry when they think information is hidden. BBP has a wealth of resources on its website, and for years, I have helped neighbors navigate through and find answers to questions. Focus on facts and reliable information. Recognize that there are some fights that are not worth engaging. Firmly held beliefs can be immovable, but often, with logic and reason, we can meet in the middle. Listen to understand.

I prefer not to listen to other people’s impressions of individuals, particularly when they are negative. I have had productive relationships with others who may come off as difficult to others and have stood up for community members when others put them down, written them off, or refused to work with them. It helps to have shared goals and to block out extraneous chatter.

My kids know that not everyone will like them, and they don’t have to be friends with everyone, but I expect civility, and when that isn’t possible, avoidance.

In this race, I have stressed to my supporters that I am not running AGAINST an individual, I am running FOR a seat, which I hope to attain on my own merits and dedication to our district, not at the expense of another.

KENNEDY: Having respect and actively listening to others despite having different points of view is the only way for adults to behave both in person and online.  There are also times when it is important to have self control in situations where you may feel yourself becoming upset and wanting to lash out.  It is often helpful to take a step back before answering anyone either in person or online so that your response is edifying and kind.

I also remind myself and other parents that a nasty comment is never worth it, as it shifts the focus from any valid point that one is trying to make to how it is being said.  It is healthy have differing opinions and to be passionate about what we feel is important but at the end of the day, we are one community and we need to put those differences aside and respect each other.  My husband and I model this to our children by not only the way we interact with people we do not agree with but with each other as well.  In a marriage, you're probably not going to agree with someone on every topic either. I think it is important for our children to see how we work through that and that even though we may disagree on something, we still love each other. 

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

KANNE: I am proud and humbled to be endorsed by the Bayport-Blue Point Teachers’ Association. I have declined endorsements from organizations outside of BBP, as I feel that this hyper-local election should be about the members of our community. Many community members and leaders have expressed their support for me, but I will not publicize that support, as it is not my place to do so.

KENNEDY: At this time of this writing, I do not have any public endorsements.

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

KANNE: One does not need to be a parent to serve on the Board of Education. Our middle school is named for beloved former Board of Education President James Wilson Young, who was never a parent, but who served our community with care and pride from 1934-1961. When schools are strong, our entire society benefits.

KENNEDY: As per the New York State School Board association, a candidate must be 18 years old, a US citizen and able to read and write. They must have been a resident of their district for at least a year,not be employed by the district and not live in the same household as another board member. Anyone who pays school taxes should be able to serve on the Board of Education.

 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)

KANNE: I am all for different ways to engage with community members. I have been a regular attendee of Board meetings for a decade, and they are usually sparsely attended. Years ago, we used to have Board Forums, which were informal gatherings of Trustees and community members at the public library, with no agenda, no administrators, and no video. This gave community members the opportunity to discuss any concerns without being officially on the record. It was a great environment for productive discussion, however, on more than one occasion, I was the only non-Trustee community member who attended. They were discontinued due to a lack of attendance. Should this be something that community members desire, I would be open to reviving the Board Forums

 KENNEDY: I believe that not only should informal meetings with the Board of Education be heldbut also that the Board of Education trustees should make themselvestotally accessible to the community members.  My father was a school board president for 23 years and he always made it a point to attend different concerts, athletic events, fundraisers and this provided another level of informal interaction with the community.  As a trustee, I want to be present in this way as much as I am available to do so.  

 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?

 KANNE: I am proud of the District for its transparency with the community. While it may have been frustrating to some whose lives could not press pause while waiting for information, I applaud our leaders for waiting for guidance from federal, state, and local officials before putting re-opening plans in place to avoid unnecessary last-minute changes. Dr. Hearney was clear in all communications that our re-opening plan was fluid and changes would be made in line with the most up-to-date information available.

We are all navigating this pandemic together, and Dr. Hearney and the Board worked tirelessly to educate our students remotely (March-June 2020), in-person, fully virtual, and hybrid models (beginning of ‘20/’21 school year), in-person masked (end of ‘20/’21 and beginning of ‘21/’22), and at present, in-person without the mask requirement. This is no easy task, and I thank all the administrators, Trustees, faculty, staff, and volunteers who have helped navigate these waters with Dr. Hearney at the helm.

KENNEDY: I believe that Dr. Hearney and the Board enforced the mask mandate appropriately when they were ordered to do so by Governor Hochul. The Board has no say into whether or not to enforce a mandate, however, the Board did not advocate for the choice of parents to decide what was best for their children until it was too late and then, did not do so strongly enough. By that time, many of the community members had lost their trust in the Board of Education.  

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

KANNE: Yes. Students have lost loved ones, had parents and caregivers lose jobs, missed out on rites of passage (field trips, banquets, proms, team games, musical events, prom, graduation), experienced learning loss, been isolated from their peers, and are dealing with increased levels of anxiety and depression while continuing to live through the uncertainty of an unprecedented and ever-changing pandemic environment.

KENNEDY: As a physical therapist who worked during the height of the pandemic, I believe that COVID 19 was a serious threat to public health especially for the elderly and immunocompromised.  I personally had many family members who were affected by this disease greatly.   However, the ensuing data demonstrated that it was not a serious threat to our students.  The greater threat to our students was the potential damage to their mental health by stacking mandates and restrictions upon them, which were accompanied by the argument that children are resilient.

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

KANNE: The last time redistricting was presented was January 2019. Grade configurations are an ongoing discussion with the enrollment committee. Should the Princeton Plan, or the removal of the neighborhood schools in favor of grade clusters, be presented for a vote, I would listen to the most up-to-date information and consider stakeholder input, as well as the financial health of the district, before making a decision.

KENNEDY: I do not support the Princeton Plan, as I believe elementary aged children in a family should attend the same school. I also do not believe it would be an effective way to achieve any significant savings in the budget.

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

 KANNE: I support outside experiences for our students that would enrich the curriculum learned in the classroom setting

KENNEDY: Yes I support this.  My husband still talks about the Washington DC trip as a highlight of his experience in the Bayport-Blue Point schools along with the Frost Valley trip. 

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

KANNE: Wholeheartedly. We are so very fortunate to have Dr. Hearney as our District’s leader. His love of and investment in our community are palpable. He prefers not to be stuck behind his desk, but to visit with students in classrooms, auditoriums, and on fields. Dr. Hearney’s wheels are always turning thinking “how can we make this even better/how can we make this work,” while maintaining a responsible budget, and I share his value of continuous evaluation and improvement. We may not always agree on everything, but I never doubt his intentions, and am confident that he always has the best interests of our students, faculty, staff, and the greater community at heart. He is as much a Phantom as anyone with a 11705, 11715, or 11772 zip code, and I hope that he stays with us until he is ready to retire

KENNEDY:   I would be interested in completing a formal performance assessment on Dr. Hearney then giving him an opportunity to advocate for himself before making a decision of paramount importance.

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?

 KANNE: Support starts with open communication and connectivity. We all need one person in our lives who we can turn to in times of need, and many of us need more. Students were stressed with schoolwork, sports and other extracurriculars, jobs, friend and peer relationships, family situations, and planning for their futures even before adding the pressures and uncertainties of a pandemic. I believe that every student, staff, and faculty member should be able to have a place to fit in, be supported, thrive, and also be able to fall apart and be picked up.

Already in motion are the peer mentor program in elementary (8 weeks topics: What is Peer Mentors?, Understanding Differences, Understanding Bullying, Asking for and Offering Help, Joining a Group, Learning to be Assertive, Mediating Conflict, and Pulling it all Together), mixed-grade mentor programs at the secondary level, student-to-student community-building initiatives, wellness centers and clubs, and Dr. Hearney’s goal of everyone having a “Go-To Person.”

Clubs can be a great way to meet new people with shared interests (guitar, fashion, ecology, service, etc.) with little time commitment. I’m a supporter of our athletics and arts programs because while they can be competitive, they also promote team building and bonding with peers outside of the classroom setting. I saw this year how positively our student actors were impacted by their involvement in “Newsies,” how they constantly checked in on one another (and still do, after the show wrapped), and how the music department welcomed everyone with open arms and found a place for everyone who wanted to be included.

I shared a training with our administrators and social workers that I hope will be piloted with students who are looking for ways to help identify friends and peers who may just need a friend with whom to chat, or who may need professional help. My background is not in social work, psychology, or psychiatry, but I always share programs when I find them, because learning how to help can be empowering.

We are fortunate to have two fantastic organizations in our community that were born out of profound grief to shine lights on domestic violence and suicide, and they provide valuable resources-- The Gabby Petito Foundation and the Christopher A. Coluccio Foundation. The District has also partnered with the Family Service League for additional support and will be working with David Heimowitz to bolster our mental health initiatives. Dr. Hearney has recently spoken about wellness clubs and rooms in each building where students and staff can go if they need a break or extra emotional support. We often refer to BBP as “two towns, one community,” and it is my hope that we will continue to turn to each other in times of need and turn towards our neighbors when we see them fall.

Since I have this platform, I would like to add that on July 16th of this year, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will be available nationally by dialing or texting 988. We should have visible reminders in our schools that this help is available.

KENNEDY: My heart hurts for every family who has had to walk through this tragedy. We have to continue to work and improve in this area for the sake of our children, even if only one child is being helped. I would support programs such as Family Services League making a presentation at our schools on a weeknight to help families identify at risk students or behaviors and offer counseling as well as the Suffolk Response Crisis Center, a center who can also provide school presentations as well. I would also support various modalities such as Patchogue Rotary Animal Assisted Therapy program for our students.

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

KANNE: Parents already have the opportunity to challenge textbooks, library books, and other instructional materials. Policies 4510 and 1420 set forth the method by which to make such a challenge.

KENNEDY: While parents may take a position that a book that they find to be objectionable should be removed from the school library, any administrative or board action to actually impose censorship on our educators based on individual views would be in direct violation of the first amendment right of freedom of speech.  However, I do believe that certain books that may not be appropriate for certain ages require parental notification.  As an involved parent, it would be natural for me to investigate any book bought home from the library by my child.

 

 

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