Sag Harbor Schools Puts Emphasis on Diversity and Inclusion

From left to right, five of the 18 members of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee are school staff member Bobbie Cohen, Sag Harbor Elementary School assistant principal Betty Reynoso, Sag Harbor superintendent Katy Graves and community members Janine Rayano and Emily Weitz. Christine Sampson photo

An idea pitched by community members to the school district during the summer of 2017 has come fully to life as a newly chartered committee of the Sag Harbor School Board, with a roster of 18 people tackling an issue affecting not just the schools but the nation: deciding how to encourage inclusion and empathy in a place that is growing more and more diverse.

The Sag Harbor School Board on Monday voted 5-0 to formally establish the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

“It is amazing that everyone was so on-board with this moving forward,” said Betty Reynoso, the Sag Harbor Elementary School assistant principal, who co-chairs the committee along with superintendent Katy Graves. “We’ve been given the gift of time to carefully plan out what we’re doing moving forward. We can go the distance as a committee.”

During a presentation on Monday, Ms. Reynoso said she envisions “a school where everyone is equal and included” without having to be singled out as needing special attention or support.

The group has been meeting every month since December of 2017 but only as a subcommittee of the Nutrition and Wellness Committee. Among its first tasks was defining “diversity” in the Sag Harbor School District. It came up with groups including the LGBTQ community; immigrants; students with special learning needs or disabilities; those with fragile housing situations or have hostile relationships at home; those who experience poverty; and others.

Even before it gained full committee status, the group was able to immediately effect some changes within the schools, including asking the administration to add Spanish-language cafeteria menus, report cards, phone messages and official email communications from the school district.

“It’s been really rewarding. We feel like we’re making a difference,” said Bobbie Cohen, a longtime Sag Harbor Elementary School staff member who has been an active committee member, having been inspired to join after seeing the play “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The committee plans to focus on making sure individual classroom libraries are representative of a wide range of cultures, abilities and experiences.

“If children never read books about other cultures or other walks of life, then they never get to see other perspectives,” Ms. Graves said. “If children don’t get to read books about children of their own culture or color, that’s not good either, because it doesn’t help them learn their own story.”

The committee is lining up a film screening in collaboration with John Jermain Memorial Library, which is just one of the entities with which it has partnered. Other groups the committee is working with include The Retreat, the Children’s Museum of the East End and Organización Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island.

The committee is also planning student workshops, staff conferences and other events.

“We’ll have guest speakers for children, families and staff to continue that dialogue of what is diversity and inclusion — not only in our school and community, but lifelong,” Ms. Graves said. “It is a big, broad world out there and we want our children and families to be ever inclusive for their lives.”