To the Editor:
I am one of the original leaders of the Garden City Parents United group. I never intended to be an advocate lobbying the school board and state for that matter. I was used to being the PTA volunteer, class mom, costume-maker for the fifth-grade play, etc. I was born and raised in Garden City and my children are third generation as my father was also born and raised here. Then Covid hit and I knew how it was being handled with our children and schools was wrong. Garden City Parents United formed from a group of parents who literally stumbled upon one another because we knew the best thing for our children was full time in person school. Our fight has always been about normalcy for the children. Other states saw this early on and their students thrived and were no worse off with covid numbers. The opposition wants you to believe we are a small group. This is untrue. We have 1,000 members just on Facebook and the offline presence is even greater. Perhaps if the school board had conducted any of the surveys we requested they would have a better idea of where the parents stood on issues. But yet, they refused for two years.
The group’s mission is to keep school normal but also to allow for local control and parent input into their child’s education. Common sense curriculum meaning a back-to-basics approach focusing on the key subjects. The opponents of this would lead you to believe that GCPU is the one that has a political agenda. It is quite the opposite. We are fighting to REMOVE politics. Through my advocacy for the past two years, one truth that became glaringly clear was that politics and political agendas have seeped into the school districts in Garden City and across the country. Look at the union newsletters that tell all the teachers who to vote for. Take a look at what political parties support the unions and vice versa. Just take a look at the political hot buttons and how they are seeping into our schools-topics that don’t belong in the schools. Our children are being used as pawns in a political game–Our group wants politics REMOVED from school. If the topic is controversial – whether an agenda for the left or right- it doesn’t belong in schools! The opposition would have you believe GCPU is a group of right-wing extremists. This is also untrue. We have democrats, republicans, libertarians, moderates, and apolitical people in this group.
There have been accusations hurled towards me, my family and the hard-working dedicated parents of this advocacy group. Now I am seeing these same accusations hit the three candidates that I and the Garden City Parents United Group support: Arthur Gnecco, William O’Donohue and Joseph Sileo. Not one of the accusers has bothered to sit in on a meet and greet, zoom, or reached out to really see what the candidates believe. I actually think if they heard these candidates speak and what they stand for and how vested they are in the district they might actually vote for them. The opposition makes libelous claims that are worthy of a lawsuit.
One opponent has claimed that our group has joined forces with Long Island BOE Patriot Takeover. I can tell you with certainty, I have no idea what this accuser is talking about. I and GCPU haven’t joined forces with anyone. The three candidates, who are POA candidates, have not joined forces with any Patriot Takeover. However, there is a rising across America to get politics OUT of the School Boards and Gnecco, O’Donohue and Sileo are the candidates who will NOT bring in politics. Politics and schools are a bad combination and these three candidates believe that as well.
There are other claims that are just untrue. The candidates have never claimed to defy nor do they plan to defy State Mandates. The opposition wants you to believe these candidates will defy mandates causing our district lose funding. That is patently UNTRUE! What GCPU demanded of our Board of Education the past two years and never got was advocacy. We asked the Board to join with other Board members across the state to fight for local control. And when the Board actually had local control back in August 2021, they voted to keep our children masked (except Mr. Pinou). But, this goes beyond the mask issue. Mask mandates were one symptom of a much bigger issue in education in our state and across the country. What we will continue to ask of the Board of Education is advocacy for what is best for the students.
The opposition claims they were harassed and bullied. I can honestly say that I and my children have been targets of extreme vitriol by the some people with opposing views. I realize it’s part of the package when you are a fierce advocate on controversial topics. I feel my children should have been off limits but the opposition sees them as fair game. Let’s be clear- Advocacy Is not harassment or bullying. It is completely appropriate to ask Board Members to hold themselves accountable for their actions as representatives of this district — whether a ”hot mic” moment at a board meeting against a parent and child, or the constant mocking of and laughing at community members while speaking at board meetings, or inappropriate social media postings bordering on lewd and offensive, limiting of free speech and violations of open meeting laws and on and on and on. It is perfectly acceptable to be frustrated at the lack of communication from the Board. In two years I can honestly say I felt that no one, except Mr. Pinou, on the board listened at all or cared to listen to the concerns of the community members who didn’t align with their beliefs. It is perfectly acceptable to be fed up when for two years we asked for surveys of the parents in the district and were denied. Rest assured GCPU is not a small group as the opposition would have people believe.
The issues went beyond covid protocols, to issues with Board Policies and curriculum issues which were brought up meeting after meeting. One community member challenged and pressed the board on their lack of policy updates which led to a lack of curriculum guidelines. This was all under the watch of Holub and Foley. Board policies that should have been updated years and years ago still are not updated. Curriculum issues abound. We have a recent conflict of interest discovered last night where a sitting board member hired a consultant company where he is employed and Mr. Holub had no answers. They need to be held accountable and we need Board Members who will fix this negligence.
There are also accusations being made that Parents United is against teaching accurate history. Another example of a board member who has not listened to the community members. Firstly, the report on Critical Race Theory in our schools is not in any way associated with Parents United. That was one gentleman who requested the FOIL and created the report and shared it with the district and residents. Not one person I know does not want history taught, the good, bad and ugly. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want an inclusive and welcoming environment. And if the Board Members listened at that meeting (and I urge all of you to go listen to that board meeting), not one parent who spoke was against teaching real history or against inclusiveness. They were FOR those things. These are flat out lies.
I am voting based on my own personal experiences over the past two years. Mr. Holub I found to be very dismissive of the residents. He would take opportunities where he could to silence those in the GCPU group. Additionally, the Western nominating committee was made up of varied residents with a wide range of political and educational views. The outcome was that Mr. Holub received zero votes. There is a reason for that. We thank him for his service and volunteering but it’s time for someone else.
I also feel very strongly that Board Members should have students in the school. Their decisions then directly impact them. I feel Mr. Holub and Mrs. Foley are out of touch both having grown children. The three candidates I support, Gnecco, O’Donohue, and Sileo all have children in the schools.
What bothers me most is that people are making assumptions about the three candidates Gnecco, Sileo, and O’Donohue without ever speaking with them. None of the three are running under the GCPU slate. They are running independently but are supported by many in the GCPU group because their principles and outlook on education align closely with mine and many others.
I have been a part of the Garden City education system for 50 years. If we count in my father, make that 70 years. We are good but we can do better here. I believe the way forward is Arthur Gnecco, Joseph Sileo, and Billy O’Donohue. CHILDREN FIRST!
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