Open Letter: Systemic Racism in D20 - Please add your name using questions below!

Dear Chancellor Carranza, Deputy Chancellor Austin, and Executive Superintendent Freeman,

Children in District 20 have suffered for too long under leadership that ignores the implicit bias and gross inequities in our schools. Our district is led by a superintendent, Karina Costantino, who disregards parents, brushes aside District 20’s abysmal record on special education, and most recently has failed to take action in response to the ongoing racism of a sitting CEC member.

Parents have been forced to stomach the bias of CEC members who support screened schools using the coded language of “achievement,” “excellence,” and “safety.” But recently, amidst swelling awareness of the urgent need to dismantle our racist systems, the actions of one CEC member in particular have crossed a non-negotiable line.

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Vito LaBella has a long history of promoting anti-Black views and dismissing parents who disagree with him. In recent days, his racism has escalated to publicly devaluing Black lives, and defending police violence.

On a public parenting forum, LaBella referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as a “dog whistle” for anti-police violence. He followed up by posting a disturbing image appearing to show a group of veterans duct taping a man in a wheelchair. In addition, he recently shared a post justifying the police killing of a Black man in a Wendy’s parking lot in Atlanta.

In response, parents expressed hurt over his words and were disturbed that he is a sitting CEC member; rather than listening, he reiterated his position, treating the murders of Black people as a subject for debate rather than a matter of life and death.

To be clear, this is anti-Blackness, and it directly contributes not just to inequity, but to racial violence. When a CEC member chooses to stoke race-based violence on a public parent forum, these statements are not “controversial” or “provocative”; they have real-life and potentially deadly implications.

We demand that the Department of Education, and District 20 in particular, explicitly take a stand against racial discrimination, violence, and anti-Blackness once and for all by immediately removing Vito LaBella from his seat on the District 20 Community Education Council. Silence on this matter is complicity and is unacceptable.

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We further call for the resignation of Superintendent Karina Costantino for her continued inaction on the issues that impact the children of District 20. Her ineffective leadership was highlighted recently by the delayed and inadequate letter she released following the murder of George Floyd and subsequent uprisings for Black lives.

Superintendent Costantino’s letter to the community was an insulting response to racial violence and calls for justice – focusing on “divisiveness” and treating Black lives as an afterthought. This fits into a longstanding pattern of neglect of some of the most vulnerable students in our district and demonstrates her inability to lead, especially during this time of crisis and potential transformation.

For years, children have been robbed under Costantino’s leadership as District 20 has one of the worst IEP noncompliance rates in the city. When confronted, she attempts to distract or scapegoat to sidestep this criticism. The fear of reprisals has muffled many complaints and cries for help. This alone is grounds for her removal.

Additionally, through administrative deference to screened schools in our district, and obsession with standardized testing and metrics, she has intentionally elevated the needs of the already thriving over those of the most vulnerable and marginalized. Her reign represents years of systemic bias, serving to normalize racism and prejudice, and defying even the tepid calls for “respect” and “unity” expressed in her own letter.

She’s been evasive about rolling out implicit bias training as required by the DOE, has stymied work on the development of culturally responsive curricula, and has failed to respond to calls for greater diversity in hiring.

She actively cultivates an environment of fear and control through retaliation against teachers and parents for speaking up or demanding better for their children (including weaponizing ACS). She is out of touch with the needs of our community because she does not respect the voices of those she serves. It’s past time for her to go.

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As parents of Black children and children of color who have feared for their safety due to the promotion of racist violence; as parents of students with disabilities who have been denied equal access to education for far too long; as parents whose children have been subjected to religious discrimination in our schools; as parents forced to choose between our neighborhood schools and schools that value racial equity; as students who demand equitable treatment and access to education; and as parents and community members who can no longer stand by while the children of District 20 suffer under poor leadership, we demand the Department of Education uphold its own recent calls to address racial inequity in education and take immediate action to remove Mr. LaBella and Superintendent Costantino.


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ANY COMMUNITY MEMBER OF DISTRICT 20 MAY SIGN THIS LETTER. Do you LIVE within School District 20 and/or ATTEND or WORK at a SCHOOL/CHILDCARE or PROVIDE RELATED SERVICES within School District 20? (Bay Ridge, Southern Sunset Park, Dyker Heights, Borough Park) *
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