There are mixed opinions on how — or if — diversity, equity, and inclusion should be taught in schools. Some think it should be part of the curriculum, while others think it’s a topic reserved for parents to talk with their children about. One thing is clear for parents in the East Meadow School District — it should not be taught covertly.
Undercover videos were released showing David Casamento, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, discussing DEI being taught covertly in schools across Long Island. Parents expressed their outrage at the March 8 Board of Education meeting.
DEI aims to include and teach about all groups disadvantaged by race, ethnicity, disability, gender and gender identity, socioeconomic status, or other factors.
The videos were released by Project Veritas, a nonprofit journalism enterprise that, according to its website, “investigates and exposes corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions to achieve a more ethical and transparent society.”
In the video, Casamento is seen talking about how certain topics need to be taught without parents knowing due to the possible parent backlash.
“Here’s the thing with DEI work,” Casamento said in the video. “If you push too hard doing the work and you get this pushback, it will be decades before you can do the work again. So, it needs to be incremental.”
Another clip of him shows him saying parents, “honestly believe that systemic racism does not exist. They don’t understand why we have to talk about LGBTQ issues. Or have books that have LGBTQ themes in them.”
At the board meeting, roughly 100 heated attendees, many being parents, demanded answers from the board. Casamento was not present.
“As most of you are aware there was a story that broke today from Project Veritas regarding Assistant Superintendent David Casamento,” School Board President Alisa Baroukh said at the meeting. “In terms of the district’s hiring practices, we have a strict protocol that was developed by a diverse group of stakeholders within our district.”
Another part of the video that angered parents was a clip of Casamento talking about not hiring conservative-leaning candidates. He said a rubric for hiring was specifically designed “in light of DEI.”
Baroukh added that the board is requesting a public review of the district’s hiring process including a review of the evaluative rubric, which will be presented to the public at the March 22 board meeting.
“While we believe that our hiring practices are sound and completely above board, we feel that a public review is necessary given the situation at hand,” she said. “In addition, we will also be conducting a thorough investigation into this matter.”
East Meadow parent Allyson Benowitz, told the board that Casamento’s comments reveals evidence of fraud in the district’s hiring process.
“Covert operations, taking power from people, creating rubrics for not hiring ‘those types of people,’ secrecy, collusion, the list goes on,” Benowitz said. “Moreover, not only are his comments evidence of corruption, his pride, and compliance, as he revealed systematic corruption over public funds towards his personal agenda, is irreprehensible. It is morally repugnant.”
Concerning Casamento saying that he tries not to hire conservatives, one East Meadow parent, Terence Hohlman said “it was slimy, devious, and backhanded.”
“Then he says we need good people,” Hohlman added. “Who are the good people? We’re not good people? Conservatives aren’t good people?”
A few parents addressed that DEI inherently isn’t a bad thing. “It’s important that we use this opportunity to move things forward,” Adam Pobliner, a district parent said. “(DEI) teaches our children that the mistakes that we have made as a country can be fixed.”
He noted that DEI is not about turning students gay, it’s about having representation in schools. “When I was in high school I had friends that put razor blades to their wrists because they were gay and got tortured and they had no one to go to,” he said. “If my child is gay and finds a teacher he can relate to, good.”
Ethan Mann, a parent of an East Meadow graduate, told the Herald that he was surprised by the video, and that, “taken at face value, the video shows very concerning things.”
He also believes that DEI should be taught in schools. “When teaching is not rooted in student’s lives, student learning suffers,” he said at the meeting. “It does not say that a gay teacher should make his or her children gay, it does not say to me that somebody should use their sexuality to influence or teach, but what it does say to me, is that there needs to be representation so that students are available for learning.”
A March 10 email sent by Board President Alisa Baroukh stated that Casamento was “administratively reassigned,” and that he will not be in any district buildings.
As of press time, Casamento and other district officials have not responded for comment.
Additional reporting by Ama Nkrumah