On Nov. 1, an online petition on Change.org began circulating on social media, which now has over 400 signatures, calling for the removal of Dr. Marc Ferris, superintendent of Sayville Schools since June 2022, after his public statement email to the community on Oct. 12 addressing the varsity soccer team’s canceled season following the discovery of hazing incidents and most notably, his characterization of “racist and anti-Semitic” incidents involving past soccer team members.
In a previous board of education meeting, Ferris outlined how various media outlets were contacted by the district following headlines and reports of racism and anti-Semitism to specify that the current varsity soccer team did not commit racist and anti-Semitic acts or bullying, but that those instances were found in previous years’ teams.
Community members, particularly parents of current varsity soccer players, spoke out against Ferris’s district-wide email, alleging that the inclusion of the terms “racism” and “anti-Semitism” gave the impression that the current team was responsible for the offensive behavior and had caused them emotional harm as they were ostracized by the labels.
The online petition said, “We were assured that under his [Ferris] leadership, our students would feel valued and empowered to learn. However, recent events have shown a stark contrast between these promises and reality.”
It went on to state, “Dr. Ferris has publicly labelled members of our community as ‘antisemitic and racist’” and that the statements “not only tarnish the reputation of our school district, but also potentially increase threats against us in light of recent attacks in Israel.”
The petition urged board members to “to act swiftly and decisively by removing Dr. Ferris from his position as superintendent for breaching the trust placed upon him by both parents and students alike.”
During the Nov. 2 board meeting last Thursday, parents spoke during the public portion to further address the impact that Ferris’s email and statement made on their children and the community.
Lifelong Sayville resident and 1992 Sayville High School graduate, Brian Reiss, who is a parent of a current soccer player, spoke first, and said he was in a unique position to address the board as one of the “few Jewish families in Sayville” whose parents were founding members of the B’nai Israel Temple in Oakdale.
Reiss challenged the board that “after reading the second paragraph of the district-wide email announcing the cancelation of the season, did not interpret it to mean that current team was responsible for the racist and anti-Semitic behavior?”
He went on to ask what measures were taken, i.e., educating team members, reaching out to the Jewish community, after discovering a history of anti-Semitic behavior.
“Careless judgment” and “damaging language” were followed up with “statements [that] did not adequately address the accusations of racism and anti-Semitism.”
Jennifer Schollenberger, a mother of a current Sayville soccer player, pointed out the perceived irony she noted that the third goal for the school district included a “sense of belonging for students” as she felt that “our boys have none of that. We have no support whatsoever […] Our boys are the ones suffering the most due to this.”
“The abrupt cancellation of the soccer season was extremely hurtful to these boys and resulted in losses to these athlete boys… the loss of identity that goes with a student athlete… the loss of an active lifestyle that stimulates their body and mind… the loss of camaraderie,” Schollenberger said.
She spoke of her son’s abrupt change in mental health following the district-wide email and said he told her, “We are being portrayed as such a bad group of boys, but we are not.”
“They’re being really ostracized… and they’re all hurting bad,” Schollenberger said.
President Tom Cooley said that the Board “supports” Ferris and the administration decision to cancel the last two games of the soccer season.
“Additionally, the Board of Education and the Superintendent of Schools take their responsibility to provide a safe, supportive learning environment for all students, free from hazing, bullying, and discrimination, very seriously. All allegations of bullying, hazing, and discrimination are investigated and addressed in accordance with the law, Board policy and sound educational practice. Further to this point, the Board of Education and Superintendent shall continue to keep the Sayville Community apprised of all matters which may impact the District in line with its commitment to transparency while balancing the ethical obligation to protect all student’s privacy. The District made social workers and guidance staff available for all members of the soccer team and continues to work with outside organizations to bring in speakers to educate students and parents on the negative effects of this sort of behavior on the social emotional well-being of all children.”