Facing Issues of Intolerance

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By Indiana Nash

Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA- Niskayuna Central School District officials recently brought together members of the community and faith leaders to discuss a subject which many in the community don’t want to believe is
an issue here.
The term “intolerance” doesn’t quite fit, but it comes close.
Over the course of 2015, the Niskayuna school district reported 36 incidents of harassment and five
incidents of cyberbullying. Only six incidents of harassment were reported in 2014, three of them
cyberbullying.
These incidents of bullying or harassment are reported by each public school in the state to the
state Education Department. The data are then used to determine the
safety of each school in the state.
The data collected can be accessed online at http://www.p12.nysed.gov/irs/school_safety/school_safety_ data_reporting.html
While the Niskayuna district does not have a huge number of incidents, there are still issues within the district that some community members believe need to be addressed.
“We’re a multicultural community and what you’ll find is that part of the established community isn’t
as accepting. … It’s a much more complex issue than that even, and it’s not rampant,” said Rabbi Matthew Cutler, who attended a recent meeting which Niskayuna schools Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra called together.
Cutler believes that part of the cause may be the political climate of the country.
But Niskayuna mother Angela Antonikowski, an assistant professor at Albany Medical College, said
something has to change within the community.
“I give credit to the superintendent for even holding these meetings. … People in the community
don’t know that they can look up this data online,” Antonikowski said. She believes that the reason
why many people in the community are incredulous that intolerance and harassment exists in
the community is that most have never seen the data collected by the New York State Education
Department.
“There may be some systematic issues. This meeting was only given one hour, which is another
problem. But this is Dr. Tangorra’s first year and I don’t think he realized the scope of these issues,”
Antonikowski said.
She speaks from experience, as her son was harassed while he was in elementary school due to his race.
Another faith leader in the community, the Rev. Bob Longobucco of St. Kateri Parish, agreed that the
community needs to expand its view on its identity.
“[The meeting] was important because we got to hear from faiths that we don’t normally get to hear
from. … I think we need to have a wider view of what our community is,” Longobucco said.
Tangorra said that he first became concerned with these issues in the fall.
“The national conversation is toxic and I was worried it might affect the school district and permeate
through to the students,” he said.
During the school year, he held open forums where students were given the opportunity to bring up
any issues they thought needed to be shared or successes that should be praised.
Within some of the meetings, students brought up issues of intolerance and harassment that they
had noticed.
Creating a school district and community of inclusion is also a part of the district’s strategic plan,
said Tangorra.
“How can we ensure that we have a culturally sensitive curriculum in place? That’s what we’re looking at
and working on,” said Tangorra.
One of the programs he hopes to implement this year is called No Place for Hate, which was created
by the Anti-Defamation League. It seeks to help school districts to promote an inclusive environment
and to recognize schools that strive to create that environment.
But this isn’t exclusively a school district issue.
Tangorra believes that it’s also a community issue and one that he hopes to get more members of the
community involved in, from local business owners to teachers.
“One incident is one too many,” Tangorra said, when asked if there was any particular incident that
drew him to begin addressing the issue.
N-CAP president Judy Tomisman has been a part of the planning process since Tangorra first
mentioned the idea to her a few months ago, Tomisman said.
“It’s going to be a comprehensive planning, involving the whole community. We also have a cultural
courtesy component to our organization,” Tomisman said, recalling the LGBTQ forum that
N-CAP held earlier this year.
Tangorra, the faith leaders and community members were in agreement that further education
is the first step in the process.