By Dallas Jackson
At a March 8 Board of Education meeting, East Meadow School District officials said they had followed up on promises of a “thorough investigation” into a controversial video of Assistant Superintendent Dave Casemento speaking on the district’s hiring practices.
Casemento was seen on video discussing a district rubric that he claimed was used to filter hires, particularly those who display “conservative” ideologies. The nearly 10-minute video was published by Project Veritas, a conservative undercover investigation website, showing Casemento making other comments regarding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) being taught in the district.
In the video that has sparked outrage and concern from community members, Casemento said DEI was taught “covertly” in districts across Nassau County because, “with DEI work … 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.”
School Board President Alisa Baroukh addressed the audience at the March 8 meeting, saying the district’s hiring practices were “developed by a diverse group of stakeholders” from within the district. Baroukh went on to say, “In the interest of transparency, I’m requesting a public review of our hiring process to be presented in the public meeting on March 22, which will also include a review of our evaluative rubric. 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.”
An email was then sent on March 10 by President Baroukh stating that Casemento had been “administratively reassigned,” and would no longer “be in any district building.”
The March 22 meeting followed up on the previous session, as both the board and community members took the time to speak, not only about the video, but also the division that arose in its wake, especially in online spaces such as Facebook.
Dr. Jodi Luce, a fellow board member, said, “Despite the division, I still believe in our community … People have always disagreed, but at the core we all feel strongly about our children and about our community.”
Many individuals expressed concern over Casemento’s implication of the impact that politics has on the East Meadow education system.
Nancy Widman, another board member, said, “I was shocked and disheartened when I viewed the video… I am a Republican conservative and took offense to the notion that having conservative values was unacceptable.”
Luce, Widman and many others reiterated the belief that politics do not belong in the classroom. In the Wednesday evening session, which turned raucous, the board followed up on its promise and presented an outline of the district’s hiring process for instructional staff members in its entirety.
Also at the Wednesday night session, a representative from the Law Offices of Guercio & Guercio LLP, addressed the public. Matthew Mehnert, a partner of the firm that specializes in municipal and education law, was the attorney assigned to handle the investigation into both the district as well as the video.
Mehnert introduced himself, as well as explained how he was currently in the “infancy” stages of his investigation. At the time, he had begun to collect and review evidence, including the video and post by Project Veritas.
While many took to the microphones to express outrage at the incident, one community member referred to by the board as Mr. Jasmine publicly reflected on his experience in the East Meadow district.
According to Mr. Jasmine, a resident of East Meadow for 17 years, his son (class of 2022) and his daughter (class of 2024) have never had a “minority educator” at East Meadow High School. Mr. Jasmine’s daughter, according to his comments to the board, had desired to be an educator in East Meadow but believed that she could not “be a teacher here in the town that [she is] growing up in” because, as a person of color, she would not be hired.
Mr. Jasmine then turned back to the board and asked, “Is there also a rubric for the board to determine whether or not you hire a minority teacher?”
Mr. Jasmine’s comments were met with an outpouring of applause, as he addressed what can be considered the other side of DEI.
President Baroukh also took the time to discuss what DEI is and how it intended to positively impact those in marginalized communities. “DEI has been happening here in East Meadow long before an acronym that was politicized,” Baroukh said. “We hear you, and we hear how frustrated you are and we understand.”
As of press time, the investigation into the video and the district’s hiring practices was ongoing. All video transcripts of the March 8, 22 and subsequent meetings can be found on the East Meadow Union Free School Districts YouTube channel.