Nude photographs of special needs students were reportedly taken at Fox Lane High school in a boys’ bathroom and shared in December 2021 and March 2022. The Bedford Police Department is investigating the issue. Former Board of Education member Pam Harney told Parents Defending Education that similar incidents happened as early as September 2021. On April 6, 2022, Bedford Central School District Board of Education member Steven Matlin asked the other Board members in a meeting to approve an “independent third party” to investigate the issue. He stated:
This third party will review the recent incident at the high school to determine how our current policies, procedures, practices, culture, and training can be improved to align with best practices to better protect the safety and privacy of all students with an extra focus on the safety and privacy of our special education students. [Time Stamp: 32:40]
The Board of Education unanimously approved the “independent third party.” However, parents were not happy with how the school district has treated the incidents involving the special needs students. Parents were concerned that the school district was moving too slowly with members of the Board of Education having their priorities misplaced. A parent of a son with autism who was a victim of what occurred spoke after the “independent third party” was confirmed. She stated: “The current policies and procedures designed to address this situation are obviously inadequate and require prompt and immediate attention.” [Time Stamp: 37:35]
A concerned resident of the school district also spoke about how she felt leadership has ignored the needs of parents with children in special education. She specifically targeted the school district’s push for racial equity:
I’ve heard many of you talk about equity ad nauseam but somehow equity for [special education] students is not the focus of your efforts. Does a [special education] student have to have a different color skin than mine to matter? To be treated equally? All the time and thought of an equity committee for almost a year for what? To write a policy or statement about how all students are to be treated equitably? [Special education] students were last on a long list of marginalized groups despite having over 650 [special education] kids at any given point in time in this district. [Time Stamp: 40:55]
On April 20, 2022, the Board of Education held another meeting where parents and concerned community members could speak. The same parent from the previous meeting whose son was a victim spoke once again and explained that parents in the district with special needs children have faced resistance when asking for greater inclusiveness for their children. She stated: “The parents who championed this have been met with resistance, been publicly gaslighted, and generally exposed to unimaginable stress and retaliation as they advocate for their children.” [Time Stamp: 1:35:25]
Another concerned community member insinuated that members of the Board of Education were not honest with what they knew about the case or when they knew about it. He explained:
The administration should be punished for their dereliction of duties – not the teachers who are the heroes in this situation every day but the administration, including the deans, superintendent, and head of school who did not notify parents of the actions once they found out. You know about the bullying and the evidence against the students who brought the sexual violation to the attention of the district. The administration knows the details, and you as the Board are not addressing it. It is your responsibility to manage this administration on your behalf – not saddle up to them. [Time Stamp: 1:41:10]
In another video that is a second part of this meeting, the Board of Education had a public session with concerned community members regarding questions on the topic. In this part of the meeting, Superintendent Joel Adelberg stated that the school “reviewed all protocols regarding use of bathrooms and monitoring who’s in the bathrooms.” [Time Stamp: 2:00] He also stated that the school has made “major adjustments” in the communications process of major incidents happening on campus. [Time Stamp: 2:30]
During this part of the meeting, a former board member spoke about the school district needing to do more for students. She said that the school district needed to “bring back communications and student life.” She continued to explain that the school district needed to be “proactive” rather than “reactive.” [Time Stamp: 10:40] The meeting then lost decorum after the superintendent appeared to start arguing with a concerned community member who previously attended Fox Lane High School. [Time Stamp: 17:00] The former student’s mother, Pam Harney, was also a former member of the Board of Education from 2016 to 2019. She confronted the superintendent and Board of Education before the meeting was abruptly ended. [Time Stamp: 23:50]
On April 26, 2022, the Board of Education appeared to deliver a letter through an attorney to Pam Harney banning her from attending “in-person community advisory committee meetings on school district property through June 30, 2022.” The letter stated that she “repeatedly disrupted the Board of Education meeting, using loud and offensive language, and then you proceeded to initiate a verbal confrontation with the Superintendent of Schools in the parking lot after the meeting.” The letter also accused Pam Harney of verbally confronting “a student in the parking lot after the meeting, resulting in that student feeling unsafe.” The letter continues to state that “your actions on April 20, 2022 violated the district’s policies.” The letter then explains:
On behalf of the entire Board of Education and the Superintendent of Schools, you are advised that, effective immediately, you are not permitted to physically attend public school board meetings or community advisory committee meetings on school district property through June 30, 2022.
When speaking to PDE, Pam Harney explained that the school district’s letter banning her from future events was “retaliation.” She said:
It’s clearly retaliation because I am the most vocal person in the district. Because I’ve been on the Board, I now know how the system works. I understand how the policies are written and how they’re used. I understand how they abuse executive session. I know all of their little tricks.
She also explained to PDE that parents in the school district were responsible for exposing what happened to the special needs students, rather than the Board of Education or other school administrators. She explained that parents worked together to create a $1,000 reward for any information that students in Fox Lane High School had. The plan worked, and the parents were able to attain the information on what happened to special needs students at the school.
Despite having trouble protecting students with special needs, the school district has appeared to focus on gender ideology and racial equity over the past couple of years. On March 10, 2021, the Board of Education appeared to update the school district’s “Student Gender Identity” policy. The policy mandates that staff and teachers use the preferred name and pronouns of students. The policy states: “Generally, District personnel should use the language that individual students are using to describe their own gender identity, appearance, or behavior.”
The policy then provides perceived definitions for the terms “cisgender,” “gender,” “gender expression,” “gender identity,” “gender-nonconforming (GNC),” “transgender,” and “transition.” The policy explains that “cisgender” is “a person whose gender identity corresponds to their assigned sex at birth.” The definition for “gender” is “actual or perceived sex, typically with reference to social and cultural differences rather than physiological ones.” The definition for “transition” is “the process by which a person socially or physically aligns their gender expression more closely to their gender identity than their assigned sex at birth.”
The policy also explains that the school district will possibly update the records of students to correlate with their gender identity without parents knowing. The policy states: “However, absent a request from a student’s parent(s) or eligible student to amend the student’s education records, the District may create or change unofficial records to reflect the name and gender identity that the student consistently asserts at school.” The policy further explains that “District staff will use the name and pronoun that corresponds to the gender identity the student consistently asserts at school.”
The school district will also “allow students who identify as Transgender or GNC to use the restroom and locker room that corresponds to the student’s consistently expressed gender identity at school.” The policy additionally states:
Physical education is a required part of the District’s curriculum. Where these classes are sex-segregated, students will be allowed to participate in a manner consistent with their gender identity. Students will likewise be allowed to participate in intramural activities consistent with their gender identity.
While at events such as “overnight field trips,” the policy explains that “students may be permitted to participate in accordance with the gender identity that the student consistently asserts at school.” The policy further explains that “student privacy concerns will be addressed individually and on a case-by-case basis.”
Pam Harney provided PDE with a policy proposal called “Equity, Inclusivity, and Diversity in Education” that the Board of Education appears to be planning to pass. The policy proposal states:
Diversity means the condition of being different or having differences, including, but not limited to, sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, socioeconomic class, religion, and ability, and other human differences. Embracing these diversities and moving beyond tolerance and celebration to inclusivity and respect will help the district reach our goal of creating a community that ensures that every voice is heard and valued.
To accomplish this goal, the proposal explains that “the Superintendent will establish a district-wide Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee.” The superintendent will also be “responsible for the creation of educational opportunities for students and staff related to cultural responsiveness, equity and inclusion.” The proposal also explains that the school district’s curriculum will be changed to ensure equity is enforced:
Curriculum and instructional materials for all grades shall reflect diversity and include a range of perspectives and experiences, particularly those of historically underrepresented groups. All curriculum materials shall be examined for bias by the Curriculum Advisory Council. Class instructional activities and extracurricular programs shall be designed to provide inclusive opportunities for interactions that foster respect for diversity.
Pam Harney emphasized to PDE how the school district has been slow in acting to protect students with special needs but then spends the resources and time pushing for racial equity and gender ideology. She explained to PDE that “inclusion” should include students with disabilities:
If you’re really truly talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion, then by definition that should include any marginalized group. It’s not just about race. It’s not just about gender. It should be inclusive of neurodiversity, anything, any group. That’s what inclusion means.
The school district’s website explains on its “Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment” page that the AVID program is used to achieve “learning, equity, and access.” The school district explains that it will “continue to implement a robust AVID program in grades 7-12.” The school district continues to explain that “each grade level AVID cohort works closely with dedicated advisors, faculty, and staff to develop the necessary skills to be college-ready.”
AVID is an organization that promotes “cultural relevance and responsiveness” in schools. The phrases “cultural relevance” and “culturally responsive” are often used to describe a method of teaching that includes the race and ethnicity of students as part of the lessons taught in classrooms. AVID’s website explains that the organization “encourages educators to consistently evaluate their teaching practices and adopt a willingness to change in order to address the ways in which their students learn.” AVID’s website also explains how the organization “supports educators schoolwide in clarifying how culturally relevant teaching practices are imperative in the mission of college and career readiness for all students.”
On the school district’s curriculum page for “Elementary Social Studies,” the district promotes using the “New York State Social Studies Framework.” This framework provides the following assignments that focus on gender and race for kindergartners to complete:
- Students will create A BOOK ABOUT ME that includes information about their gender, race/ethnicity, family members, likes and dislikes, talents, and skills.
- Students will identify characteristics of themselves that are similar to their classmates and characteristics that are different, using specific terms and descriptors such as gender, race or ethnicity, and native language.
Students in sixth grade “will compare and contrast the gender roles” and will learn “belief systems and religions often are used to unify groups of people, and may affect social order and gender roles.” Race and gender will also play a role in learning about the Great Depression. The framework explains that “students will examine the effects of the Great Depression on American families in terms of the loss of jobs, wealth, and homes, noting varying effects based on class, race, and gender.” In eighth grade, “students will examine struggles for equality and factors that enabled or limited success on behalf of women, farm workers, Native Americans, the disabled, and the LGBT community.”
The school district also has a class dedicated to the discussion of “Race and Gender.” The document for the class explains that “Race and Gender is a one-semester discussion-based course that examines issues linked to race, gender, and class through fiction and non-fiction texts as well as film.” The document further explains that “students will study and discuss these topics in terms of history, current events, and societal perceptions.”
The school district’s Board of Education additionally passed an “Anti-Racism Value Statement.” The Board of Education states in this document:
To the Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color within our BCSD community, we say unequivocally that your lives matter. They always have and they always will. Moreover, the Board rejects all forms of racism within our school community. We stand with current students, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators, and our broader BCSD community and acknowledge that racism in our schools is real and must be addressed.
The Board of Education then provided the following “principles and goals” to achieve “anti-racism”:
- Acknowledging that racism in our schools is real and recognizing that we as a Board must stand up against all forms of racism.
- Creating a supportive culture within all our schools that promotes a responsibility to learn about and reject all forms of explicit and implicit racism.
- Understanding the roots of any inequitable practices or outcomes and taking steps necessary to change policies, procedures or protocols that foster inequity.
- Celebrating our district’s diversity and recognizing that our diversity is an asset that makes us stronger.
- Understanding that inclusion and equity cannot be achieved without a sustained commitment to an anti-racist pedagogy.
- Recognizing the importance of an anti-racist and truly inclusive curriculum at every level of education.
- Recognizing the importance of teaching and modeling civil discourse in our classrooms and all school meetings and activities, as reflected in Board Policy # 3413 (“Civility”).
The superintendent also had a statement on “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” However, this statement appears to no longer be available to the public.
Fox Lane High School also has a student group called “Fox Lane Anti-Racist Environment (FLARE)” that pushes for racial equity in the school. The school district has an article online that promotes the group and explains that “FLARE is a diverse, student-led group that holds open discussions to educate, inspire action and create lasting change toward its goal of equity in the Bedford Central School District.”
A member of the group mentions in the article that the goal is to implement racial equity into the curriculum taught in classrooms: “Our current focus is geared towards curriculum. We hope to incorporate diverse viewpoints in both history and English classes in order to establish a more respectful and inclusive environment at Fox Lane.” The article describes FLARE as “an off-shoot of student government and a student-based directive of the Board, reporting to the Student Achievement Advisory Committee monthly.”
The school district has a “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Advisory Committee” that “is charged by the Board of Education to provide insight and recommendations.” This committee is composed of “community members, student representatives, and representatives from the Board of Education and Administration.”