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Police-Backed School Board Wins In Smithtown Following Backlash Against Diversity Curriculum

School Bus

A slate of candidates backed by the Nassau and Suffolk County police unions were elected to the Smithtown school board Tuesday night. Across Long Island, over 400 candidates ran for school boards. Voters also approved school budgets in 116 school districts by mostly wide margins.

However, the Smithtown election was bitter and focused on the school's race and diversity curriculum.

During nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd, a thousand Smithtown school district students and residents wrote the school district asking for more racial diversity in the school’s curriculum.

Among other things, the school responded with the reading of a children's book about a child whose skin was “too brown” to play Snow White in a school musical. School administrators said similar materials were available in the library.

Controversy erupted with unconfirmed allegations spread through social media that children were being indoctrinated in anti-white and anti-police teachings. Lisa Azzarelli spoke at a school board meeting last month.

“Such as white privilege, symposiums or $10,000 diversity trainers that come from a failing school district to tell our teachers that they are too white,” Azzarelli said. “This is disgusting.”

Charlie Rollins, who was ousted from the school board Tuesday night, said these accusations are untrue, and that they were propagated by the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association.

“I think people believed them. And I'm disappointed in that, but that's just the way it is,” Rollins said in an interview. He said the school board did all they could do to refute the PBA.

“For some reason people didn't believe,” he continued.

The Suffolk PBA has no record of endorsing school board candidates in the past. At last week’s meeting, at least one board member criticized the school for distributing material that faulted cops for killing Black men.

Neither the union nor any of the three newly-elected board members returned calls for comment. The members, collectively, posted on Facebook appreciation for the PBA and that they want students “only taught how to think, as opposed to what to think.”

Four Long Island school districts failed to pass a budget. Bridgehampton, Three Village and Wantagh failed to reach the 60% of votes required in their attempt to pierce the state tax cap. Northport-East Northport also failed to agree on a budget. Those districts will need to either vote again on the same budget or a reduced version in June.

The new spending plans go into effect July 1.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.