Appropriate, I suppose, that it’s school budget season as a full-blown conflagration threatens to consume discourse in the Brewster School District.
The match to this fiasco was struck by school Trustee Krista Berardi who, in social media posts on Facebook, suggested that protesters should face bodily harm for protesting on and shutting down Interstate 84. She wrote on June 3, “These dumbasses need to get hosed if they don’t get off the highway.” And, on May 31, she reposted info from another person under her name, with the beginning: “READ THIS NOW!!! WAS THE GEORGE FLOYD INCIDENT STAGED?” The post then went into a conspiracy theory that the killing of Floyd was a setup, perhaps to create racial tensions.
Every spring, as we enter the school election and budget season, we typically hear quite a bit about the fine job our school districts are doing, how important it is that the budget be approved to continue these important programs, and how vital these programs are to educating the “leaders of tomorrow.” Berardi, you see, was not only a school board trustee in Brewster. She’s also a teacher in the Carmel School District, teaching art to Middle School students.
And, at this time – as in, right now, the pivotal time we are living in – our nation is wracked by protests over racial injustice, over police brutality, over decades upon decades of wrongs. So, the question I have is this: Should Berardi be educating the “leaders of tomorrow”? Should someone who promotes crackpot conspiracy theories about the most recent heinous crime committed by police against a black man be in a position of influence over young minds? Should someone who has so little appreciation for the value of free speech, for the right to protest, be in a position of influence?
Do these posts mean Berardi is a racist? I don’t know. I hope not. She professes not. In a prevaricating apology during a Brewster School Board meeting last Thursday (June 11), she said, “I am sorry if something I said was construed that I have any animosity towards any group of people. There is nothing further from the truth. I love our community and I love its diversity. I always strive to have a positive impact on children. We make mistakes. I am sorry if feelings were hurt by my remarks but am willing to talk to anyone wishing to discuss this which is the only way to move forward by opening the lines of communication, to persevere and to love each other.”
Let’s unpack this for a spell, this bit of “I am sorry if feelings were hurt by my remarks.” That’s not really the same as saying, “I was wrong,” or, “I was unkind and impatient and spoke angrily,” or even, “I’m sorry for being a racist; I was wrong and I’ll try to be a better human.”
See, I don’t think we’re at the point of contrition, because I can’t tell if Berardi thinks she said anything wrong, other than getting caught saying it. It is indeed a supreme irony that tenure, intended to protect teachers’ academic freedom, will likely protect her in Carmel, even though, from the evidence in front of us, she’s not really equipped with the depth of thought to teach children today. Crackpot conspiracy theories – what’s that about? Will we have lessons in Q-anon next? Was the 75-year-old Catholic peace protester in Buffalo, the one shoved by police who fell and was bleeding from his ear, that one, was he really an Antifa plant?
We are going to have to wrestle, society is, with a number of things: Can you be a racist and be a teacher? How about be a racist and be a cop? Be a racist and be in politics?
I think being a racist has always been wrong. But now, in this rapidly changing environment, holding views like that will have costs. It is, I think, about time.
A postscript: Late Friday, she resigned her elected School Board post. Small progress. Until next week.
Douglas Cunningham is editor of the Courier and the Putnam County News and Recorder, in Cold Spring. Reach him at 845-265-2468, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters are welcome, to the same address, and should be 500 words or less.