Cameras in classrooms, ‘jackass’ email, gender ID

Pine Plains BOE hears it all

PINE PLAINS — Though the meeting started off with assessing the smooth start to the 2021-22 school year, the Pine Plains Board of Education (BOE) soon fielded outrage from parents concerned about their children at the BOE meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 15, at 7 p.m. in the Stissing Mountain Junior/Senior High School auditorium. 

Cameras in classrooms?

As the first to speak during public comment, Stanfordville parent Hans Tabor asked the BOE (among other topics) what its opinions were in regard to having cameras in the classrooms.

“Cameras will protect the teachers, they’ll protect the students from bullying, they’ll protect the teachers from being bullied,” Tabor said, adding they would also let parents know what their children are up to every single day at school. “We should be able to see it. Are the classrooms civil? Are there problems in there? Are there things being said that aren’t part of the curriculum?”

The board did not respond.

‘Jackass’ email

As Pine Plains resident Scott Cavey stepped up to the podium, the BOE said he needed to continue wearing his mask or they’d adjourn the meeting. 

Cavey told the BOE he sent an email to Superintendent Martin Handler with questions about the New York State Department of Health (DOH) having regulating issues. In response, he said Handler wrote an email to BOE President Anne Arent asking if she wanted him to “email this jackass.”

“I want an apology,” Cavey said, addressing both Handler and Arent. “It was disrespectful — they were proper questions written in a proper form, so for you to call me a ‘jackass’ is unacceptable, and madam, for you not to ask him as his supervisor to recant, you’ve got to be careful what goes out in email.”

“I agree with you, and I will tell you publicly it was totally unprofessional on my part and I sincerely apologize for the remark,” Handler said.

As Cavey left, a few parents in the audience said Handler’s apology was inadequate.

Quarantine or segregation?

Stanfordville father Jim Meyers, who has two children at Seymour Smith Intermediate School, then said his children were quarantined by the school last spring. He learned he had been given false information from the district after giving the DOH exposure details the school based its quarantine decision on. 

One of his sons has a medical note to exempt him from wearing a mask; Meyers said he was told to keep 6 feet away from the other students — in class and during a fire drill — while his classmates could work side-by-side.

“What a horrible experience for a child,” Meyers said. “This is discrimination and segregation… I am requesting the school board, the administration and the faculty start being honest, stop discriminating and segregating and do what the people in this community are asking you to do. I will not back down when it comes to my children — if this qualifies me as a jackass, I’m a damn proud jackass.”

Other comments focused on masks, including the lack of mask breaks. The majority of parents, though, expressed anger at Handler’s “jackass” email comment.

Gender pronouns

Stanfordville resident Jennifer Lamping said she heard from several people via text and phone students in grades eight through 12 had to fill out a sheet their first day with their name, the name they want the teacher to call them and their preferred pronoun. 

While there were several questions she thought were “extremely inappropriate” — such as whether the teacher can use the pronoun in front of the class, when contacting home and/or in front of other teachers — she was most upset that students were asked if they wanted to follow up with teachers privately about their pronouns.

“How dare you approve of that going out in the school?” she asked. “No conversation should be happening between the teacher and our children privately in regards to this. The only private comments that should be happening between teachers and students are, ‘Do you need extra help in geometry?’ ‘Do you need extra help in writing, reading?’”

Lamping said if a child feels close enough with their teacher to share that kind of private information, that’s their choice.

Masks still an issue

Wryly introducing himself as “Jackass #7,” parent Joe Leyden, in addition to voicing disgust about inappropriate flyers posted in school, asked about finding ways to “take the masks off our children?” 

He also asked for confirmation that schools are fined $1,000 per child per day for children who don’t wear masks.

“If you decline to answer that, I’ll just take that as a fact,” he said.

Given everyone who has raised concerns about masking their children, Leyden demanded to know “where the BOE’s transparency was?”

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