Two members of the Eastern Long Island branch of the NAACP appeared before the Bridgehampton School Board on Wednesday, June 23, demanding that it revoke the contract of the newly hired superintendent, Dr. Mary Kelly, saying that during her previous tenure with the Amityville School District, the academic results of minority students had lagged behind those of white students, that the district did not provide the same level of support for minority staff members as it did for white staff members, and that she had failed to take decisive action when a staff member was overheard using racially charged language at a football game.
NAACP branch President Lawrence Street and the organization’s vice president for its education committee, Denise Merchant, read from a five-page prepared statement in their appearance before the board.
Dr. Kelly, who is scheduled to start work on Thursday, July 1, was not present, but in an interview on Friday, she vigorously denied the charges, refuting them one by one.
“The Eastern Long Island branch of the NAACP questions the methods of the Bridgehampton BOE leading to their selection to the highest, most important and most honorable position in a school district,” Mr. Street read from the statement to the board.
He urged the district to respond to the community for what he called a “mismatch placement,” concluding, “we urgently request that the contract for this superintendent be revoked before it is too late.”
Ms. Merchant then read from a list of nine detailed questions asking the board to explain the process it followed before hiring Dr. Kelly, including what kind of background check it undertook and whether it was aware of the incident in which a math teacher and coach was recorded making racist comments about Black athletes earlier this year.
The School Board had been informed that Mr. Street and Ms. Merchant, who were joined by NAACP member Carol Smith, would be addressing the board. Board President Ron White read a prepared statement in which he assured the NAACP representatives that the district would respond to their list of concerns, adding that he did not have the information they sought readily at hand. He insisted, however, that the board was comfortable in its hiring decision.
“The Bridgehampton School District does not condone, nor will we stand for any type of discrimination, bias or racism,” Mr. White stated.
He said that anyone hired by the district must submit to a 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.”
He added that the vetting process was followed when Dr. Kelly was selected from a pool of more than two dozen applicants. While he acknowledged there were rumors surrounding Dr. Kelly, “there has been no finding of any discrimination or such behavior by Dr. Kelly as part of internal and external reviews.”
He concluded that she “stood out as a strong candidate throughout our search process as an educator with a proven track record for supporting students and elevating programs. As a board, we’re excited to work beside her and look forward to starting this new chapter in our district’s story.”
Mr. Street was skeptical of the board’s response. “You mean to tell me of all the candidates you guys went through an interviewed, that the one person that you found was Ms. Kelly?” he asked. “That boggles me, and I’m really curious as to know, out of all those candidates, the candidate that you picked came from a situation of a school district with a lot of racism and discrimination.”
Dr. Kelly, who has been in the district working on a part-time basis as she waits to take over from outgoing Superintendent Robert Hauser, said the accusations had put a damper on an otherwise enjoyable introduction to Bridgehampton.
Of the incident last spring when a teacher was taped making offensive comments during a football game, Dr. Kelly said he had been ordered to leave the field shortly after his remarks were reported that day, a Saturday, and that he was suspended and an investigation launched the following Monday morning.
Dr. Kelly acknowledged, as Ms. Merchant alleged, that a Black associate principal, who had been fired by the district, had filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights, but she said that the complaint had been dismissed.
According to a March 11, 2016, article in Newsday, the Division of Human Rights ruled the former employee who filed the complaint, Rodney Wilkins, was justifiably fired for having falsified his employment record.
Dr. Kelly also said Amityville had made strides in improving outcomes for minority students, including improving English and math results for elementary students, increasing the percentage of students taking Advanced Placement classes, and improving graduation rates. She said the district had been named to the College Board’s honor roll in 2017 in part for increasing participation and proficiency of students of color.