Lakeview resident Joyce McCray was willing to do whatever it took to ensure that all children in the Malverne school district had the same educational opportunities available to them regardless of their race – even go to jail.
McCray was among a number of protesters who were arrested for picketing outside Malverne’s schools and holding sit-ins during the 1960s when the district was divided over plans to integrate its elementary schools.
A half a century later, McCray told an audience gathered at the Lakeview Public Library last Wednesday, “I’ve never regretted anything I’ve done. We were fighting for all the children, not only mine.”
Although Malverne’s schools have long since been integrated, McCray said that she is still troubled by some of the stories she hears coming out of the schools today.
“I may not be able to picket now but my heart is still there,” said the 52-year resident, who no longer has children in the schools, but stays abreast of what’s happening through her good friend and fellow activist Rener Reed and others in the community.
Reed was also a panelist at the Feb. 22 program, sponsored by the Save Our Sons Network, as was Phyllis Wright, a 1961 Malverne High School graduate, ex-school board member and former principal and teacher at
Although there are no picket lines today, Reed actually said the situation in the Malverne school district is not much better than it was in the 1960s. In some aspects, it’s gotten worse.
“We used to work together,” Reed said of the three communities that comprise the school district - Malverne, Lakeview and Lynbrook. Residents from each had comprised the Tri-Community Council for Intergroup Relations during the civil rights movement. “They wanted the same thing that the Lakeview parents did for their children. They knew what was fair and what was right but they don't care about that anymore. We don’t have that [support] now.”
Reed cited to rename in honor of Elizabeth Carol Cherry, an African-American woman who graduated from the school district and taught there for many years.
“She taught all children and loved everybody...but you would’ve thought I stole something out of the bank the way [the opposition] came in masses," Reed said. (One of the more vocal opponents of Reed’s proposal, Marc Loftus, a 1987 graduate of Malverne, was present at the meeting, filming a documentary about the school district’s history.)
Reed added, "It’s another generation and it’s repeating itself…there’s a certain mentality in this world and until their hearts change nothing is going to change.”
Reed also pointed out that in recent years the number of African American faculty members and school board members in the district has declined. The few that remain have seen their positions reduced to part-time, and their access to resources and promotions denied, as alleged by high school business teacher Sherwin Benson, one of three plaintiffs in against the district in December 2011. As the founder of the Save Our Sons Network, Benson spoke at the meeting.
“We are in a critical time,” Benson said, briefly explaining how the new tax cap will impact the budget and stressing the importance of residents getting involved, a sentiment echoed by Wright.
“Don't blame the five board members up there if you’re not happy because either you elected them or you didn't vote,” she said, adding that she is tired of hearing people make excuses for not being a part of the process.
Benson said it's up to the community to make sure the budget reflects its values and is “socially responsible.” He suggested administrators should be cut over teachers and courses, calling the district “top heavy,” and that consolidating with neighboring districts should be explored.
Touching upon his pending lawsuit, Benson said his son also endured discrimination while a student in Malverne, because his father spoke out against the hiring of Superintendent James Hunderfund. Benson says his child began regressing after he was moved out of a general education class and placed into “a class that wasn’t even a class,” without parental authorization to make the change, which he says is illegal. Another parent present at the meeting said a similar situation happened with her child.
“These are the kind of people you're dealing with who would take a child out of a class because they have some sort of agenda,” Benson added. (Hunderfund issued a statement in December saying the claims in the suit are “without merit.”)
Benson said the ongoing injustice in the Malverne school district is “subtle but hurting the students” and the quality of the education. He even suggested that "if Malverne was an excellent school district, where we produced Intel scholars and Ivy leaguers,” then the hundreds of families in the district who choose to send their kids to parochial schools instead, “would forget their religion for a minute and put all that [tuition] money back in their pocket.”