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Bridgehampton School Hiring Questioned

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 09:59

Representatives of the N.A.A.C.P.'s Eastern Long Island branch have challenged the Bridgehampton School District's appointment in May of Mary T. Kelly, formerly superintendent of the Amityville School District, claiming her track record there was marked by at least one incident of racial discrimination and unequal treatment of students and faculty of color.

During a June 23 meeting of the Bridgehampton School Board, Lawrence Street, president of the N.A.A.C.P.'s Eastern Long Island branch, and Denise Merchant, who is the chapter's third vice president and education committee chairwoman, demanded that the school board reverse its decision to hire Dr. Kelly, who was to officially start in the new job today.

"We urge and request that the contract be revoked before it is too late," Mr. Street said.

He and Ms. Merchant read from a prepared statement that described math and English test scores of students of color falling behind those of their white peers. They brought up an incident in which a teacher was recorded making a racially charged comment about minority students during a football game, saying that she "procrastinated in rendering a decision" to discipline the teacher, and they claimed that in 2016 a Black assistant principal was unfairly denied resources, and ultimately tenure, during Dr. Kelly's administration.

"Not one of our children, neither Black, brown, nor white, should be exposed to the practices of the identified superintendent," Mr. Street said.

Dr. Kelly said by phone this week that the incident involving the teacher's comments at the football game was handled according to regulations. "The district acted swiftly and followed the appropriate course of action to protect students and their well-being and provide for the due process rights of the employee," she said.

As for the assistant principal's case in 2016, Dr. Kelly pointed to its dismissal by the New York State Division of Human Rights, which found that the administrator had falsified "his employment background on his application and resume," leading to his firing.

Ms. Merchant asked many specific questions about Bridgehampton's hiring and vetting process; whether the board was aware of the incident at the football game and the firing of the assistant principal in 2016, whether the board reviewed students' performance data at Amityville, and how the board planned to address the New York State Education Department's diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative.

Her questions went unanswered by the board, which generally has a policy of not responding to questions raised during the public comment portions of its meetings. Ron White, the board president, later asked Ms. Merchant to provide her questions to the district via email.

The Bridgehampton School Board, having known about Mr. Street and Ms. Merchant's planned visit to their meeting, met for about 40 minutes in executive session prior to the June 23 public portion. It stood by its hiring of Dr. Kelly, with Mr. White reading a prepared statement: "The Bridgehampton School District does not condone, nor will we stand for, any type of discrimination, bias, or racism. Should we receive any reported allegations of such behavior, you can be assured that the district will immediately conduct a thorough investigation and address the reported findings swiftly and in accordance with district policy, as necessary. This practice is also extended to our hiring protocols. Any individuals who apply for a position in our district undergo an extensive background check and vetting process to ensure that they are not only best suited for the position but possess the character to uphold our district's values. . . . There has been no finding of any discrimination or such behavior by Dr. Kelly as part of internal and external reviews."

Mr. White asked the Bridgehampton community to "give us a level of trust" in their decision to hire Dr. Kelly.

Dr. Kelly, who was not present at the meeting, declined further comment on the N.A.A.C.P. representatives' statements.

"I am very honored and humbled to be chosen to serve the district, the children, and families as the superintendent," she said. "I am excited about the opportunity to continue the trajectory of achievement and excellence, and I'm looking forward to working closely with the board of education and the staff to make sure that all of our children have every opportunity to pursue their academic, social, and emotional goals."


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