Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Free and fair local school board elections must include the voice of teachers   

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A group of teachers listening to a presentation during an enrichment day. (Photo by Kasto80, istock)

To the editor:

On May 27, 2024, the Peekskill Herald published a letter from Ms. Stephanie Hickey, who is a current trustee of the Hendrick Hudson Board of Education, which expressed strong opposition to the Hendrick Hudson Educational Association’s (HHEA) advocacy and campaigning in the recent school board election. She recommended that the community should “urge the HHEA President James Rogulski to halt interference with our elections.”

I believe that Ms. Hickey’s view is not only factually incorrect and misinformed, but also dangerous. Rather than a self-proclaimed interest in integrity, her request represents a veiled attempt to chill the First Amendment rights of  teachers, who are stakeholders in the  community and have an important, essential voice. School board trustees have a duty to respect the entire community, including teachers and their rights.

The right of public employees to speak on matters of public concern is enshrined in the First Amendment, and teachers’ unions have the right to endorse candidates in school board elections. This right of free speech extends to campaigning in local elections, including such actions as providing signs, canvassing, public endorsements and funding.  Indeed, teachers unionized as early as 1916 in New York City, in part, both for greater professionalism and wages as well as to fight restrictions on free speech and advocacy.  Campaigning and active expressions of support for any candidate do not represent interference but rather constitute an essential part of our democratic process.

Ms. Hickey falsely defines such campaigning   as “election interference.”  She goes as far to say that the integrity of the school board may be compromised by “undue influences” from external parties, particularly the HHEA. Perplexingly, she ties the campaigning of the HHEA to undermining fairness and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the schools by somehow undermining the voices of working-class members of the community.  No evidence supports this and, based on what I have seen, no group better demonstrates dedication to promulgating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our District than the teachers and the HHEA.  Teachers have been consistent advocates for all students, particularly the most marginalized students and, as one example, have opposed the recently implemented Plan B, which now, I believe, re-segregates the youngest students by ethnic origin and socio-economic status.

Ms. Hickey’s call for the community to suppress the informed voice of the teachers would remove important voices from the election process as well as the governance of our school district.  The District’s teachers, collectively, constitute a dedicated and committed group who act on a daily basis with the best interests of every student in the District.  Their opinions deserve respect and are invaluable concerning  both the direction of the District and the individuals best able to help achieve District goals.   I believe that any call for censoring  the teachers’ views remains profoundly wrong and a call that every member of the community should immediately reject.

Marion Walsh, Cortlandt Manor

(The author, a New York attorney who practices in education law, has lived in the Hendrick Hudson School District since 1995 and served as a trustee on the Hendrick Hudson Board of Education from 2007 to 2016 and as President of the Board of Education from 2009-2012. She uses her/hers pronouns. )

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