SAYVILLE BOE RACE: Maureen Dolan (incumbent) v. Alia Richards

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The Suffolk County News collected community questions from online forums and compiled them.

The questions were then emailed to the candidates and they were given a week to respond.

Here are their answers:

Please note that incumbent Maureen Dolan declined to respond to questions individually and instead sent a blanket statement, that can be found at the end of the article.

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

DOLAN: Declined to respond directly. See blanket statement below.

RICHARDS: I have not received any endorsements from organizations, government officials or other community leaders. I am running at the request of neighbors and fellow parents. As I believe the role of Board of Ed trustee is to be an impartial advocate for the community, I believe the position should remain as non-political as possible. In keeping with this philosophy, though I have been approached, I have declined many offers of such endorsements.

 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?)

 DOLAN: Declined to respond directly. See blanket statement below.

RICHARDS: Sayville’s current Board of Education’s performance in serving the community needs improvement in the areas of providing notice of meetings, transparency, collaboration with the community, and election reform.

Currently, board meetings are merely listed on the school calendar and the district website. Many have no idea the public is allowed to attend, still others assume only residents with kids in the district are allowed. As a board member, I will propose a sign be installed in front of the administration building providing the date and time of upcoming meetings, and stating all residents of the district are welcome.

Transparency would be greatly improved by strict adherence to the New York state Open Meetings Laws, which I would insist upon as a board trustee. For example, the rules state that any documents to be discussed and voted upon must be posted to the website 24 hours before a meeting; our board typically posts these documents the day after the meeting, providing no notice to the community. Additionally, since covid, our board of education meetings were finally available via livestream for community members to view from home. However, our current trustees have been against the idea of recording and preserving these recordings for future viewing, as is routinely done in surrounding districts. These simple changes would come at no cost to taxpayers but would be invaluable in building public trust.

Community collaboration is the area where I intend to bring the most positive change. The current board has taken on a paternalistic approach, deciding what they think is best for the rest of us, while only inviting cursory input from the community. Even during times of controversy when heavy attendance is expected, the board meetings are held in the small board room when the auditorium in the building next door provides adequate space for crowds of concerned parents and community members. In these situations, the board should also expand the time allowed for the public comment portion of the meeting to allow for more people to speak.

The debate regarding mask mandates and covid protocols brought into sharp focus how little our board values the wishes of their constituents. The community was cautiously optimistic when parents were sent a survey to ask if we wanted an end to the mandate, but the results were never released, and were apparently ignored. Thereafter, an invitation was sent out for the entire community to attend a roundtable regarding masks in our schools. Very shortly before the scheduled roundtable, the invitation to the general public was retracted, and only a hand selected group of interested “stakeholders” were allowed to participate. The board’s behavior here was inexcusable, and voters should remember that the way we were treated on the issue of covid protocols was just one example of all the ways community input is minimized. If we don’t elect board members willing to listen and work with us, we can expect more of the same.

Board of Education elections in Sayville need change in order to be fair and less divisive. First, our elections need to be held “at large” meaning for example if there are 3 seats open as is the case this year, the candidates receiving the top three amounts of votes take the three vacancies. Instead, we currently have “at seat” elections where potential candidates need to select which seat to run for, which creates the appearance that candidates are running “against” each other, or trying to oust incumbents. The process is far too adversarial for such a small town, and acts as a deterrent against running. Second, if for some reason a board member needs to resign mid-term, the seat should remain empty until the next election or if necessary, a special election should be held to find a replacement. The current procedure where the remaining board members select and appoint their preferred trustee leads to nepotism, and political maneuvering, and undermines the public’s right to vote. Last, the trustee position should have term limits, as we have had board members remain for decades, not allowing for fresh ideas and a balance of opinions.

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.

DOLAN: Declined to respond directly. See blanket statement below.

RICHARDS: CRT is an academic, social, and legal framework that examines systemic racism in American society. I haven’t heard from my kids that any of these concepts are being taught in Sayville, and I’m satisfied with that. I believe their developing minds are too young to grapple with advanced philosophical discussions that question the fundamentals of American society, law and government, the basics of which they are still learning. Critical thinking develops with maturity, therefore I believe CRT ideology is well suited to college curriculum, as elective coursework. Even as an adult with advanced critical thinking skills due to my law school education, the simple, a simple ideology resonates with me, famously said by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” My philosophy is in sharp contrast to the hyper focus and dissecting of race of CRT. My feelings happen to align with Sayville parents, as CRT is a subject Sayville parents have been very vocal about since I announced I was running. They have been clear, they do not want CRT as part of our k-12 curriculum. Therefore, as a trustee I will advocate to keep it out of schools until I hear otherwise from the community.

 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.=

DOLAN: Declined to respond directly. See blanket statement below.

RICHARDS: DEI is a multi million dollar  industry with the well meaning goal of inclusion and tolerance, but may not be a very productive use of limited school hours and funds. For example, how many  racist or homophonic kids is DEI education going to meaningfully reach if they live in a home where these prejudices are normalized. And as to the rest of the school population, it may backfire and cause more divisiveness. Teaching kids to tiptoe around, being constantly afraid of unintentionally insulting others, or to be on the defensive looking for any insults toward themselves is not productive in a learning environment. Many local parents have also expressed concerns that DEI training is teaching our kids not only how to think, but specifically what to think, with unwelcome political undertones. While the NYS board of regents did issue a DEI policy in May 2021, each local Board of Education has the authority to set its own policies and curriculum in order to implement the program. The role of a board of Ed trustee is to follow the lead of community members,and adopt policies that emphasize or deemphasize DEI accordingly. 

 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.

DOLAN: Declined to respond directly. See blanket statement below.

RICHARDS: Social & emotional learning is a modern trend in education that addresses children’s feelings and interpersonal skills as they learn. The term SEL is an umbrella term for so many different school programs and initiatives that defining its role in k-12 education is complicated. I applaud general ideas such as teaching kindness, respect, and tolerance, but have concerns that specific subjects introduced may not be appropriate for all children in a given class or grade level. While I am in favor of the school providing programs and resources for children and families to voluntarily participate in, I think public schools need to be careful not to overstep on the parental role of raising our children with our family values. With this in mind, parents need complete notice and transparency before anything new is implemented and exposed to our children. And our educators should not be burdened with the role of unlicensed therapists, nor should our children be exposed to sensitive subjects in the uncontrolled, non therapeutic environment of a classroom.

 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?

DOLAN: Declined to respond directly. See blanket statement below.

RICHARDS: I believe the school district has an absolute responsibility to protect all students. Sayville schools provides many social clubs for the LGBTQ community which enable likeminded students to come together.

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

DOLAN: Declined to respond directly. See blanket statement below.

RICHARDS: The COVID-19 vaccine should not be mandated for children in public schools. Parents have legitimate concerns about their children’s safety and their concerns need to be valued. From a practical standpoint, Sayville was already facing reduced enrollment pre COVID, and I fear a vaccine mandate would result in more withdrawals from the district.          

 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?

 DOLAN: Declined to respond directly. See blanket statement below.

RICHARDS: SEE ANSWER TO QUESTION "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?"

 Anti-bullying is a strong component of the Sayville 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? 

DOLAN: Declined to respond directly. See blanket statement below.

RICHARDS: Anyone who knows me knows I am by nature an inclusive, nonjudgmental person. I am aware that many in the community feel bullying is not fully addressed when it occurs within our schools. I hope to learn more and facilitate change in any way within my power when I am a board trustee. I also believe a lot of bullying in a small school district like Sayville is subtle, but more damaging because it is directed at individual targets by large groups. Bullies tend to single out and target others based on perceived differences and weaknesses. In my own life, I measure those around me by their own behavior, not by their choices in their personal lives, rumor, or reputation in the community.   I never follow the herd, always forming my own opinion of others through direct contact. I know that other parents, my children and their peers observe the way I behave, and I strive to act accordingly. Leadership by example is much more powerful than mere lip service.

 What do you love most about Sayville school district?

DOLAN: Declined to respond directly. See blanket statement below.

RICHARDS: My kids are very fortunate in getting a great education with academics, arts and athletics all available to them based on their interests. However, they have many classmates who struggle under the same framework due to differing educational needs, disabilities, socioeconomic, and personal issues. As a board member, I will be open and responsive to these concerns and vow to be a powerful advocate and tireless problem solver for these families.

What do you feel needs most improvement in Sayville as a community? 

DOLAN: Declined to respond directly. See blanket statement below.

RICHARDS: While no community is perfect, Sayville is where I chose to raise my family and buy a home. I did that because of all it has to offer, and we are lucky to have residents who care to volunteer and facilitate changes as needed. As a board trustee, I will strive to address any such concerns that come before me within the purview of the position.

Do you believe teachers should have at-will employment? 

DOLAN: Declined to respond directly. See blanket statement below.

RICHARDS: It is my understanding that teachers are employed under contracts negotiated by a union. At-will employment would violate the terms of these contracts, and a board of ed trustee has no input regarding such a change. The role of a board member is merely to hire a superintendent, review budgets, and form policy in accordance with the curriculum of the district.

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

DOLAN: Declined to respond directly. See blanket statement below.

RICHARDS: Of course not. Books on school library shelves are there because they have passed the library collection policies that have been developed over the years. Individual objections to a particular book should never be grounds to deprive other students’ access.

Statement from Maureen Dolan:

I’ve been on the Sayville Board of Education since 1995. My two sons graduated from Sayville and went on to graduate from Lafayette College and University of Pennsylvania. Now my six grandchildren are currently attending Sayville Schools.

I initially ran for the Board of Education to make improvements in our Special Education program. I was also part of a group that fought to get us a high school lacrosse team. These two causes—Special Education and lacrosse—have helped entire generations of Sayville children get into great colleges and access well-paying jobs. In addition, I’ve been advocating for years to offer Foreign Language in our elementary schools. Happy to say it has been put in place at the elementary level and with continue to grow. The world is getting smaller. If our children are to continue to be successful, we need to prepare them to live in this changing world.

Working with our district administration we have added award-winning elementary Mathematics and English programs, such as the Columbia University’s Teacher College Reading and Writing project, one of the best programs in the country.

As part of this project, we are supporting teachers’ professional development needs in this area. It’s showing in our students’ achievement levels.

One of the programs I’m proud of is Sayville Schools’ STRIDES program, which is grassroots, ground-up Social-Emotional literacy program. STRIDES stands for Self-Esteem, Trust, Resilience, Independence, Diversity, Empathy and Strength. I was so proud to see our whole community at our STRIDES parade. It was a beautiful display of unity and strength. Now we are working as a school community to make STRIDES the blueprint for all of our programs and operations. We will do it together, as one community.

In all my time on the Board of Education, I have never seen people suffer quite like we have during the pandemic. Our edges are frayed. On top of this, now we have outside groups trying to bring politics into our schools. Some say teachers are trying to teach students to be ashamed of who we are, this is not true. They accuse us of teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT). If anyone can even explain what it is, I’d be happy to listen. Others say we don’t offer enough Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in our schools. It appears these outside groups want to create a spectacle at the expense of our community.

We are living through difficult times but now is the time to heal. We must attend to needs of our children. Helping those who may have fell behind, providing all the social and emotional support necessary. To these ends, we must ensure that there continues to be open and clear communication with all in the community.

Our schools are committed to ALL of our students. We will continue to take care of ALL of our children. We will make sure ALL of our children are supported and cared for. We will make sure ALL of our children have the skills and tools they need to become successful, fulfilled adults. We will do this by growing and infusing the values stated in our STRIDES program into all parts of school life. We will stick together. That’s how we have always done things in Sayville and always will. I am proud to be a trustee for Sayville Schools.

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