Hewlett High School Spanish course causing controversy


A late-January letter posted to social media has sparked a heated conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion in Hewlett-Woodmere classrooms.

Diversity, equity and inclusion — or DEI — is generally defined as guiding educators and leaders in incorporating those values within school and higher education institutions with the help of support, resources and learning opportunities.

According to a letter posted on a Facebook group focused on Hewlett-Woodmere District 14, DEI is also the focus of a Spanish class at Hewlett High School.

The class, according to education board president Debra Sheinin, offers college credit through Syracuse University — which the school board does not review.

The anonymous letter was addressed to Superintendent Ralph Marino Jr., Hewlett High principal Alexandra Greenberg, and the education board, listing topics of concern including a “social justice” assignment in which a student focused on Adolf Hitler, and the discussion of marginalized groups.

The letter’s author wrote that they believed the teacher was indoctrinating students, promoting the teacher’s opinions on immigration and social justice, and taking advantage of students’ inability to push back. The author added that, in a language course, “students should be learning to speak the language.”

The author of the letter — who simply identified themselves as “a concerned District 14 parent” — shouldn’t hold their breath expecting a response from officials.
“The district does not respond to anonymous letters or ones posted on social media,” district spokeswoman Barbara Giese said.

Several parents expressed concerns echoing those in the letter at a school board meeting Feb. 7.

One attendee, who indentified herself only as a mother of district students, said she was upset about one topic she had heard was raised in the class: the categorization of Jews as powerful, privileged oppressors.

Sheinin stopped speakers when they made mention of the specific course, in keeping with a board policy requiring such discussions go through specific teachers and administrators. She said that, to her knowledge, no one had filed any complaints through that process.

Still, Sheinin wrote to the Herald that in adherence with board policy, teachers should be unbiased in their instruction — and that the teacher in the Spanish class was operating within that policy.

Eli Motovich, a parent with two daughters, told education board members at the meeting he did not appreciate what he described as censorship of people like him expressing concerns.

“I am a strong proponent against DEI and how it’s creeping into the education system in less-relevant education classes,” he said.

Simon Kupchik, who described himself as a student in the class, said claims another student made a presentation on Hitler have been misunderstood.

The Spanish teacher, he said, pulled aside the student who had made the presentation, telling them they had misunderstood the assignment, and they should choose another subject.

The Spanish teacher — which neither Kupchik or the education board identified — provides a balanced point of view, he said, and the Facebook post’s characterization of the discussion of groups that faced discrimination was incorrect.

“In class, she did indeed mention the post on Facebook,” Kupchik said, “because she wanted to address the points and the claims made in the post and how, from her perspective, she wasn’t trying to deliver any sort of message to us about a side that we should choose, or a message that we should lean towards. She wanted to make it clear that she was just trying to give us a worldly perspective.”

Another student in the class, Daniella Nickerson Zorilla, said the teacher speaks passionately about immigration, something Nickerson Zorilla sees as appropriate for college-level Spanish.

And as for political slogans the Facebook claims the teacher wore on her clothing, Nickerson Zorilla said the teacher once wore “Be Kind” on a shirt, featuring hands from people of different races.

“That’s it,” Nickerson Zorilla said. “Nothing horrible. Be kind to Jews, to Muslims, to Hispanics, whoever.”

Have an opinion on this school-related issue? Send letter to jbessen@liherald.com.