Around 50 members of the Bay Shore and Brightwaters community held a peaceful demonstration outside of Bay Shore High School on Saturday demanding equity and transparency from the district’s Board of Education.
In almost 90-degree weather, the demonstrators walked the perimeter of the high school chanting “Bay Shore united, will never be defeated,” “Education is a right, this is why we have to fight,” and “What do we want? Transparency. When do we want it? Now.”
Tuere Morton and Karlief Boyd, organizers of the rally, expressed their frustrations with the lack of communication between the community and school district regarding the recent budget vote, significant teacher and staff layoffs, as well as issues of diversity and inclusion within the district.
Morton started the demonstration with a moment of silence for the late Rep. John Lewis, who was a leader of the civil rights movement, original Freedom Fighter, and member of Congress. He died on July 17 at age 80.
Following the moment of silence, Morton spoke about her experience running for the district’s School Board trustee in this year’s election.
Morton said she ran in 2015 and decided to run again, alongside Boyd, for a trustee position after years of frustration and confusion in finding “common ground” with the Board and school administration.
“They paid lip-service to our concerns, but nothing really changed,” Morton said. “We challenged two seats occupied by two long-term trustees, who happen to be white men.”
Click here for the district’s response.
Both Black women candidates lost the election — Louis Bettinelli, 2,090 votes; Guy Leggio, 2,476 votes; Morton, 1,133 votes; and Boyd, 1,058 votes.
Morton said before election day, she studied the election law and the guidelines set forth by the New York State Department of Education.
She arrived the day of the election to count the mail-in votes, at approximately 5:30 p.m., shortly after the time they were scheduled to be counted.
“Much to my shock and dismay, I learned that in fact ballots were open, and scanned, beginning at 2 p.m.,” Morton said. “And that 494 ballots were voided.”
The election night, Morton said, was filled with “gross irregularities” that she and Boyd believed tainted the results. She said not one person of color was present at the scanning of the votes.
“Two highly, qualified women of color historically ran during the biggest social progressive movements in our hamlet’s history, and because our platforms challenged the status quo,” Morton said. “We have arrived at a point where enough is enough.”
Morton said she believes in the sanctity of the ballot and stands by her actions to “seek redress for a tainted process.”
She said the aftermath of the budget vote led to questions and concerns about the level of transparency and accountability in the school budget that passed.
Following the budget vote, news broke about the 60 teachers who received pink slips, and 20 teachers who accepted early retirement incentives and would not be replaced, Morton said.
Boyd said the process of how the school district handles concerns and questions about situations like this needs to change.
“A lot of times when we question what’s going on, we are directed to the process, and that process does not work,” Boyd said. “It may work as it was designed to work, but we need to change that process.”
Boyd brought up concerns of how the budget is being spent and the need for “fiscal responsibility” from the district.
“We’re laying off teachers, we’re cutting arts, cutting music, we’re laying off social workers, we’re laying off guidance counselors, and we want to spend money on gym equipment,” she said.
The organizer continued to speak about the diversity within the Bay Shore School District, but the lack of inclusion.
“Many of us find this situation exhausting, painful, and endless,” Morton said. “We refuse to take it anymore.”
Boyd expressed the importance of children seeing diversity in leadership roles, whether that be in school or in the working world.
“Diversity doesn’t just benefit Black and Brown kids, diversity benefits everyone,” Boyd said. “When these children go out into the world, they are going to be faced with diversity, and they are not going to know how to interact with people that they’ve never seen in leadership.”
Morton’s son, Tyson, who is a Bay Shore resident and 2014 alumni, spoke about the reality of diversity within the Bay Shore community.
He said the town is diverse in its numbers, but not inclusive.
“The Latino population is the greatest population in Bay Shore, however, if you were to walk down Main Street, if you were to take a look at the Bay Shore teachers and administrators, you wouldn’t get that feeling,” he said.
He said as a Black resident of Bay Shore and former student of the district, he and many others can’t help but not feel accepted in the community.
“We have been horribly underrepresented in every facet of this town,” he said. “Growing up in Bay Shore, being Black, we don’t view this place as home — our form of success is to grow up and eventually leave this place.”
He said this issue needs to be recognized by everyone in the community and those in power within the district need to be held accountable for their actions.
“This is something that all of us need to come together and work together on in order to truly improve equity and equality overall within our schools,” he said. “What was done in this election was a gross misuse of power. ”
Morton said her dream was to make a significant impact on every child who entered the school district.
She is calling for equitable representation of the diverse population across the school system, transparency between the school district and community, and better accountability of the district.
“Considering recent events in our state and our nation, we want action, not excuses or delay,” Morton said. “I’m here because the time for talk is over, and the time for reform is long overdue.”
“Together we must unite for a more inclusive, caring Bay Shore — we ask no more, and expect no less.”
Boyd said acknowledging diversity in the community is not enough, there needs to be policy change and equity in order to prepare students for success.
“Let’s step out of our comfort zone and do the right thing,” Boyd said. “Equity is justice, equity is fairness, equality is sameness, and not everybody needs the same thing.”
Below are photos from Saturday’s demonstration.