Issues of Racism, Language Access Take Center Stage at Forum for Brentwood School Board [PHOTOS]


Candidates for the Brentwood School Board fielded questions on pivotal issues like racism, language access, and budget management at a May 9 forum devoted to voicing the concerns of parents in Long Island’s largest and most diverse school district.

With nearly 150 people in attendance, the event—part of the “Growing a Diverse Long Island” series of debates and forums—gave a cross-section of community groups the chance to pose questions on issues that affect communities of color in the district, the student body of which is 90 percent black and Latino.

New York State Assemblymember Philip Ramos (D-Central Islip) noted, “The Brentwood School district is not only Long Island’s largest school district but also the most culturally diverse. It is imperative that our school board consist of educated professionals who possess the cross cultural competence and sensitivity to empower and provide the best education possible for our students.”

Three of the six candidates running for Brentwood School Board attended the event. Far left to right: Ana Martinez, Keith Allison, and Gail Kirkham

For years, the Brentwood School District has been plagued with allegations of racism among board members and school employees, and the forum gave community groups a chance to hear firsthand from board members about how they would deal with the problem.

One such community representative, Maria Magdalena Flores, member of Make the Road New York, observed, “It is evident that in many cases the board hasn’t represented the diversity of our community. Certain officials don’t understand the needs of our families and our children. We need to go out and vote in order to assure that our community has good representation in one of the biggest and most diverse school districts on Long Island.”

More than 140 people attended the event in Brentwood.

Another community member, Ruth Negron-Gaines of the Islip Town Branch of the NAACP, added, “The Brentwood school district is one of the most diverse on Long Island, and we need school board members who will stand up for the needs of black, Latino, and immigrant students. This forum is the first step in opening up a new dialogue on race, and hopefully it will continue here in Brentwood, as well as in other towns and villages across Long Island.”

And Patrick Young, Esq., program director of the Central American Refugee Center, noted the importance of this forum for getting immigrants involved in the electoral process: “When immigrants become citizens, they also become voters. The challenge is to involve them in elections beyond the marquee presidential race. At the forum they learned about an election that may affect their children’s lives more than any other.”

Three positions are at stake in next Tuesday’s school board election, and three of the candidates for those positions attended the forum: Keith Allison, Gail Kirkham, and Ana Martinez. Three other candidates, Harold Allen, Stephen E. Coleman, and Mike Houlihan, were invited but could not attend.

Noticia editor-in-chief Eliana López served as moderator.

The forum is the second in an ongoing series of events focusing on issues affecting diverse communities on Long Island. Newsday’s Joye Brown called the first event, a 2011 debate for Suffolk County executive,

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