A questionnaire distributed to students in two Woodmere Middle School seventh-grade classrooms has outraged many parents in the district, leading them to threaten to cast “no” votes in next month’s vote on the school budget.
“For the past 10 years that we’ve been in this district, we have always supported our schools and libraries and always voted ‘yes’ for the budgets,” said Hewlett resident Kelly Joyce-Shapiro, who has three children in district schools. “This year is different, and it’s not about the money.”
The questionnaire was part of an online quiz on the PBS NewsHour Classroom website at PBS.org. The survey included questions such as “In general, how much do White people benefit from advantages in society that Black people do not have?” and “Do you think greater social acceptance of people who are transgender . . . is very good for society or very bad for society?” Other questions asked respondents about their views of the Democratic and Republican parties, and about the profits of corporations.
Joyce-Shapiro explained that the questionnaire was brought to her attention by a member of a chat group comprising over 1,000 parents in the Hewlett-Woodmere School District. The quiz has moved her to take action not only for herself, but also, she said, for those who are afraid to speak up.
After reading the survey, she emailed district Superintendent Ralph Marino and asked about the purpose of the questionnaire and whether the district planned to distribute it more widely.
In an email, district officials told the Herald that a letter had been sent to parents of students in two classes about the questionnaire.
“Per NYS standards, 7th grade students are taught a unit which includes a study of the birth of political parties,” the letter read. “Naturally, many students became curious about the platforms/issues of modern-day parties.”
According to the district, filling out the questionnaire was optional. “Students were not asked to stand on different sides of the room based on party affiliation,” the letter stated. “The survey link was provided to students in two classes and was not a part of the planned lesson or curricula.”
But questions about racial differences and transgender people clearly left many parents confused — and angry.
Not satisfied with the district’s letter, Joyce-Shapiro, accompanied by her husband, Lawrence Shapiro, voiced her concerns at a Board of Education meeting on April 4.
“We never expected to be activist parents,” she said.
Board President Debra Sheinin responded only that the issue had been handled, which, Joyce-Shapiro said, left her wondering what Sheinin was talking about.
Joyce-Shapiro also told the Herald that she was concerned about the showing of “Love Simon,” a movie about a boy coming out as gay, in one of the district’s 11th-grade classrooms. In one scene, two boys kiss.
“I don’t care what people want to do with their lives,” Joyce-Shapiro emphasized. “It doesn’t bother me or my husband, and we respect everyone, but please leave the children out of this. This has nothing to do with the kids.”
One of the Shapiros’ children is a couple of years away from moving up to the middle school, and both parents have expressed concern for the future of their children and the younger generation.
“Stop indoctrinating our kids,” Joyce-Shapiro said. “Let them be children, and let them have the same freedoms we had to think.”
The questionnaire has led parents in a Hewlett-Woodmere Facebook group page to threaten to vote “no” on the school district budget.
“This incident was not part of the curriculum and should have never been given to the class,” Jeanine Cav posted. “There’s power in our votes. Our words obviously don’t matter.”
Bina Kr also commented, expressing her desire to vote “no.”
The vote on the $135.17 million spending plan for 2023-24 is set for May 16.