Opinion: When a L.I. school board tries to ban Black Lives Matter

By Alan Singer

The Smithtown School District will restrict the use of 34 BrainPop instructional videos in classrooms because they introduce topics like Black Lives Matter and human sexuality.

The restriction is in response to a couple who complained at the district’s July Board of Education meeting that the videos are biased against conservatives and “no more than a call for revolution, for our young people to protest,” according to Newsday.

A BrainPop spokesperson responded via email that “we created the video on the Black Lives Matter protests to provide parents and educators a resource for explaining the protests and movement in kid-friendly terms. The video, which features a cartoon robot named Moby, “doesn’t call for or encourage a revolution.”

BrainPop videos discuss over a thousand topics in math, science, social studies and English. They are used in almost three-quarters of U.S. school districts. Not coincidently, complaints against BrainPop were also made at a July school board meeting in the Three Village School District. A speaker charged that BrainPop videos had “BLM all over it, along with Pride and videos that say if you’re white, you’re basically an oppressor.”

You can watch the nine-minute BrainPop “offending” Black Lives Matter video on YouTube.

In the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump carried every election district in Smithtown, some by over 30 percentage points, earning Smithtown the title Trumptown, New York. Smithtown also returned Lee Zeldin to Congress. Zeldin, one of the most conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives, voted against establishing a commission to investigate what happened in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, supported Trump’s claims that the election was somehow stolen from him and asked the Supreme Court to overturn the result.

In May, Smithtown voters elected three conservative candidates affiliated with the pro-Trump group Long Island Loud Majority. While it is unclear whether the group represents a majority of Long Islanders, it is definitely loud when disrupting school board meetings, where members often attack staff and student speakers. They have also been accused of propagating anti-Semitic tropes. During the school board campaign, the group circulated a newsletter attempting to connect opposition school board candidates with George Soros, a progressive and a Jew who has been targeted by anti-Semitic forces in Europe.

The Smithtown campaign against Black Lives Matter and diversity efforts first drew public attention in January when parents complained about the speaker at the district’s Family Literacy Night. Broadway actress Diamond Essence White read a children’s book called “Not Quite Snow White.” White, who is Black, is an outspoken supporter of Black Lives Matter. Smithtown Superintendent Mark Secaur apologized to protesting parents for the invitation to a “polarizing” personality.

After the Long Island Loud Majority-backed candidates were elected to the school board, the district’s assistant superintendent for instruction and administration, who had guided its diversity and equity efforts as a member of the district’s Equity Team, resigned. She had been criticized by parents and Long Island Loud Majority, which argued that diversity and equity were really subterfuge to promote critical race theory.

The push to take over local school boards is part of a long-term strategy of the conservative group American Legislative Exchange Council to reshape American education and society by taking control of local governing bodies. Opposition to critical race theory has replaced opposition to the 1619 Project as the main mobilizing point for conservatives across the United States.

In response, the assault on CRT and the 1619 Project, the Zinn Education Project is organizing teachers to pledge to “teach the truth” and participate in Days of Action. It also provides sample lessons. In Smithtown and other Trump-supporting communities across the U.S., however, school boards and frightened administrators apparently don’t want teachers to “teach the truth.”

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Dr. Alan Singer is a professor of teaching, learning and technology and the director of social studies education programs at Hofstra University. He is a former New York City high school social studies teacher and editor of Social Science Docket, a joint publication of the New York and New Jersey Councils for the Social Studies.