The East Meadow School District has hired an investigator to look into the undercover video that was released on March 8, showing David Casamento, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, discussing hiring practices and how diversity, equity and inclusion are being taught covertly.
At the March 22 Board of Education meeting, the board voted to hire Matthew Mehnert, of Guercio & Guercio, a Farmingdale-based law firm specializing in education law, to review the video of Casamento and his statements.
The board made it known that the district does no business with the firm, and selected it because it is a “completely impartial and independent party to this matter and (has) expertise in education law.”
In the video, Casamento is shown discussing hiring practices “in light of DEI.” He also mentions that conservative-leaning job candidates tend to get weeded out, based on their responses to some of the questions they are asked.
This angered parents, residents and others, and the packed room at the meeting was evidence that they wanted answers. Attendees got a look into the school district’s hiring practices, after board President Alisa Baroukh called for a public review during the March 8 meeting.
“To the community, we hear you and we hear how frustrated you are and we understand,” Baroukh said at last week’s meeting. “This board of ed has reacted swiftly and expediently to address this matter in the most transparent way possible out in the public arena so that our community can see and understand.”
Mehnert gave the audience an overview of what the process would look like, and explained that he had begun collecting information from district personnel, “third parties” and his own research. He also said he would speak with “witnesses.”
“The scope of the investigation,” Mehnert said, “is whether or not, in connection with the statements that were made . . . there are any policies of the district that were violated by any of the conduct that was indicated through the statements made by this district employee.”
He added that he would review whether the district’s policies comply with New York state and federal law, and would also look into the district’s hiring practices.
Mehnert said that he didn’t know how long the investigation would take. Some people — including board Trustee Nancy Widman — asked if he would be talking to people who have been turned down from positions in East Meadow — if any. He said he would look into doing that.
Once the investigation is complete, he will submit a report to the district and its council.
Superintendent Kenneth Card and Anthony Russo, assistant superintendent for personnel and administration, gave everyone a look into the hiring process for instructional and administrative staff.
For instructional staff, at first the vacancy is listed internally and externally. Then, the resumes are shown to a committee which is made up of principals, directors, assistant principals, or chairpeople. They decide who comes in for a committee interview. Those selected as finalists undergo a demonstration lesson in an East Meadow school. From there, a report is given on the candidates in which they are ranked, and the candidates fill out the application materials, and have their references checked.
The form is given to Russo’s office, and he interviews the candidates. His recommendation is given to Card, and then to the board for approval.
According to Card and Russo a hiring attributes rubric — that was developed by a DEI committee — is voluntarily used during the interview process, and it looks into a candidates’ personality, quality of instruction, student/teacher relationships, and professionalism. The rubric is not mandatory.
Central administration does not participate in the hiring of teachers, Card said.
“I believe, philosophically and educationally, that the decision to hire teachers should be made at the building level,” Card said, “by the person responsible for the supervision of those teachers.”
The hiring for administrative staff starts off the same. Then the cabinet administration reviews resumes for principal or director positions, and the cabinet and building administration reviews resumes for assistant principals, deans and chairpeople.
Candidates then submit a video where candidates respond to screening interview questions. From there candidates are invited for an interview with the committee who is made up of three teachers elected by the teachers union, three administrators chosen by the administrators union, one cabinet member, and Russo, who doesn’t have a vote. They are then ranked in order of preference.
The top four meet with central administration. Finalists fill out the application materials, and have their references checked. Assistant principals, chairpeople, and dean positions are brought to the board for approval. The board interviews candidates for principal, director or cabinet positions.
Card noted that since 2017 when he started with the district, only two principals have been hired, and they were hired internally. Any assistant principals that have been hired were also from within.
To date, he said, only three directors were hired from outside the district.
“Any teacher that has been recommended to me by a building principal and the directors have never been rejected,” Card said. “That’s a fact.”