FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 17, 2012
Contact: Stephanie Torre or Colette Menaldino 212-285-1400
EAST RAMAPO PARENTS AND COMMUNITY MEMBERS
DEMAND REMOVAL OF LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD
Application for Removal submitted to the New York State Commissioner of Education
Public school parents and community advocates within the East Ramapo Central School District in Rockland County, New York, are demanding that five members of the local School Board (“the Board”) be removed from their positions and an Overseer or Monitor be appointed by the New York State Commissioner of Education (“NYSED”). The public interest law firm Advocates for Justice has been retained by the petitioners in this matter. Legal papers are being served and filed at this time.
The East Ramapo Central School District (“ERCSD”) includes Spring Valley, Chestnut Ridge, New Hempstead, and Monsey, serving approximately 8,000 public schoolstudents and approximately 18,000 private school students. At least seven of the nine Board members are private school parents.
This petition by parents and community advocates emerges from several years of problems and tension within the ERCSD.
· Public school parents have become increasingly concerned about the Board’s financial decisions. It has recently come to light that the NYSED has withheld money from the District for nonpublic school tuition reimbursements because the Board violated the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and State Education Law by failing to supply adequate documentation for these placements. The Board was made aware of their violations back in 2010, yet it has continued to place students in private religious schools when appropriate public school placements existed. NYSED made it clear in a letter to the Board, issued after February 29, 2012, that continued violations would lead to additional withholding of State funds from ERCSD.
· A Freedom of Information Law request by a public school parent and follow-up inquiries revealed that the ERCSD had purchased religious texts to loan to religious schools. This practice violates the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution and inappropriately utilizes ERCSD funds.
· In August, 2010 and July, 2011 parents petitioned the NYSED regarding the sale of public school property by ERCSD to religious institutions below the properties’ market value. In one instance the sale was halted, and, in the other, the sale was stayed pursuant to a final decision. Additionally, the Board has failed to address chronic late payments by a religious school currently leasing one of the school buildings.
· Significant budget cuts have been implemented within the ERCSD, including the termination of 25% of the teachers, elimination of full-day kindergarten programming, elimination of school social workers, elimination of assistant principal slots, an end to collaborative special education in the elementary schools, cuts to BOCES training programs, elimination of the Twilight Academy, and increased classsize. Instead of taking responsibility for the fiscal situation, Board President, Daniel Schwartz proposed an alternative, “Get rid of graduations. It’s a superfluous expense.”
Arthur Z. Schwartz, Esq., President of Advocates for Justice and Lead Attorney, said “There is nothing more important to our national identity than separation of church and state. In this case, the Respondents – elected representatives who are public officers — have not only blatantly crossed over the line, they have done it in a way which deprives thousands of children of their right to an adequate education. We are determined to rectify the situation.”
Hiram Rivera, a public school parent and President of the parent organization Padres Unidos, is demanding action by the State. “For the healing process within the East Ramapo school district to occur, the irresponsible board members must be removed. It is imperative that we as a school district focus on all of the children of our district and not on a single group to the detriment of others.”
Steven White, a former public school parent and community activist, said “The East Ramapo School Board has repeatedly snubbed the parents, students and teachers of the district. It has never honored the opinions of the users of the public schools. The Board members have abused their authority and then thumbed their noses at the State which gives them their authority. This school district was once one of the most desirable in the state. No longer. The public school users have tried every possible way to fix the problems. We have held protest rallies, we have made attempts at mediation and reconciliation, and we have filed appeals with the State, but the problems persist.”