A proposal to move the Christmas Concert was at the center of a controversial vote at the New Hyde Park/Garden City Park School Board Meeting on July 9 at Manor Oaks School. Under the proposal, put forward by Board President Patricia Rudd, the current concert would have been moved to the end of January or early February, and renamed Winter Concert. The vote was 3-3, with one abstention. In the end, the Board passed a further proposal to study the issue with an advisory group of parents, and to revisit the topic at future meetings.
Superintendent Regina Cohn expressed her disappointment with the defeat, telling the board that "I feel sorry for the children. I have never said this to a board before. I am very disappointed that it has come to this."
Referring to the fact that she could have made the decision to move the concert without bringing it before the board, Superintendent Cohn added: "Out of respect for the board I did allow this to happen, but I am sorry that it did. I will tell you that as someone who is not Christian, who in a previous job went to work on Dec. 25, that this is something that is offensive."
In discussion prior to the vote, Vice-President Robert Nugent said the proposal was "a wonderful idea to deal with an issue that has been extremely controversial in the past."
"This has not been discussed fully in our community for 10 years, and 10 years ago this community was a very different place," he said, adding that "we have to honor the fact that we are changing as a community."
Pointing to the rows of empty chairs for the public, board member Ernest Gentile cast doubt on the divisiveness of the issue in the community, saying, "The general public has not come here in enough numbers in the last 10 years to justify changing Christmas to something else."
"I think the issue is about one word - Christmas. It's nothing to do with religion," he said. "I don't think we should be moving anything. I don't think that anyone goes to the concert expecting it to be Jesus Christ on the cross."
He was supported by trustee David Del Santo, who said, "I am not in favor of moving anything, and I'm not religious."
"When folks move into the neighborhood," Del Santo continued, "they should adapt to our way of life. One of the freedoms you have here is the freedom to move if you don't like it."
"It's an emotional issue for a lot of people," said Joseph Bongiorno. "I don't think it's a question of giving in. I think it's a question of doing what's right. I think we should look at moving the concert and celebrating the children."
Earlier in the evening, the Board held its annual organization meeting. Patricia Rudd was re-elected and sworn in as president, while Robert Nugent once again assumed the position of vice-president. Dr. Regina Cohn took the oath as superintendent of schools. Diana Biehayn was appointed as district clerk, while Christine Nicastra will serve as district treasurer.
Other business discussed by the board during its general meeting included a plan to issue a letter of support for a bird sanctuary in County Basin No. 132 in Denton Avenue, next to the Denton Deli. President Patricia Rudd felt that the facility would be of benefit to local schoolchildren, particularly as a place to visit on field trips. "When you drive by it, you would never know how beautiful it is," she said. "I would like the board to support the development of this property."
The Board also confirmed that graduation ceremonies for schools in the district will again take place at Hofstra University next year, rather than in the schools. "It really was a pleasure," said board member Joan Romagnoli of this year's ceremony at the University. That sentiment was echoed by President Rudd who, despite her initial misgivings about moving the ceremony, found it to be a success. "It was terrific to see lots of grandparents, people in wheelchairs, aunts and uncles," she said.
Board member Annette Giarratoni reported on her efforts with the New Hyde Park Save Our Village campaign, and pledged to continue to monitor the program in the future. "It is something that we as a governing body should keep in mind," she said, "as it impacts on the health and safety of children." The campaign is geared towards minimizing the negative impact of improvements to the LIRR in New Hyde Park.
The next board meeting is set for August 13 at the Manor Oaks School.