Featured Story

Anti-Bias Task Force seeks funding to host implicit bias training for town employees and others

The Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force plans to host implicit bias training sessions that would be open to public-facing town employees, as well as community members involved in local fire departments, ambulance and the school district.

Cindy Clifford, the task force chair, and Michelle Lynch, the vice chair, appeared virtually before the Riverhead Town Board at Thursday’s work session to request funding for the training session through the community benefit agreement with sPower solar. That agreement authorized in 2019 allotted $150,000 toward the advancement and promotion of an education and employment initiative, which is where the task force is seeking funds. There’s $135,000 remaining in that fund for education, officials said.

The training session, which would be done virtually, would cost $1,200 for up to 50 people. Depending on how many participants express an interest, the task force could host multiple sessions. Each one would cost $1,200, regardless of how many people up to 50 participate.

It was one of three proposals the task force members sought approval for from the Town Board Thursday. They also are seeking to host a Synergy meeting that brings together members of the public and town police department as a way to increase communication. And the task force is also seeking its own Facebook page to share information.

Ms. Lynch said the implicit bias training would be done by James Banks, a longtime professor at Suffolk County Community College who is consultant to the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding. He’s done similar training sessions throughout the East End and Suffolk County, she said.

“Just about any implicit bias can explain the definitions and issues associated with implicit bias, but this training will operate on the premise you can’t train away racism and implicit bias,” Ms. Lynch said. The key, she added, is to work to change ideas and beliefs and “thereby encourage alternative behaviors.”

Each session would feature three modules: bias/discrimination, self-discovery and transformation/healing. Each module would be two hours.

Town Board members expressed support for the training, as did police Chief David Hegermiller.

“It looks like you did your homework,” Supervisor Yvette Aguair said. “You did a lot of work.”

Anne Marie Prudenti, the deputy town attorney, said she would prepare a resolution for the use of the funds. She requested guidance from the Town Board on how to word the total funds, such as not to exceed $5,000, which would allow for multiple sessions depending on how many people participate.

Ms. Aguiar asked if the Riverhead Central School District had been aware of the opportunity for the bias training.

Ms. Clifford said Lori Koerner, the district’s executive director of curriculum, instruction and professional personnel, attended a meeting where it was first discussed.

“The school district is very interested in expanding thinking and reducing implicit bias however they can,” she said. “We’re also looking at this as an opportunity to create a ripple effect. If we can change the thinking and change the perceptions of people by helping them understand how a lot of how they look at things was formed early on and isn’t necessarily true, they can pass that information on.”

The task force has a $3,000 budget, which has not been used yet this year. Ms. Prudenti said the task force had other programs in conjunction with the school district it was hoping to use those funds for, which is why it was requesting money through the community benefit agreement.

Ms. Aguiar also supported the Synergy meeting, which is something already done in Southold Town as a way to create a dialogue with the public and police department. Southold police Chief Martin Flatley participates in the Synergy meetings.

The meeting would be of no cost to the town.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Ms. Aguiar said. “I know the [Southold] chief is happy with it.”

The Facebook page the task force requested would be open to anyone to join or like, although no comments would be permitted.

“We also feel a Facebook presence would help us easily and repeatedly and efficiently reach out to community without any expenditure,” Ms. Clifford said.

Ms. Aguair said information shared on a page would need to go through town officials since it is under the representation of Riverhead Town.