Politico 8/17/16: Education Law Center Lawsuit Demands that NY State Intervene in ER Schools Crisis

In court, East Ramapo parents argue for state intervention in school district

By Keshia Clukey, 08/17/2016 03:53 PM EDT

TROY – Parents of children in East Ramapo schools called on the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to require the state education department to take more substantial measures to remedy the district’s schools.

“The children of East Ramapo have nowhere else to turn, all levels of government have failed them year after year,” Wendy Lecker, an attorney with the Education Law Center, an advocacy group representing the parents, told Justice Raymond Elliott.

“The state is responsible to correct malfeasance or mismanagement by a school district that sabotages their right to a sound basic education,” Lecker said during oral arguments.

East Ramapo parents David Curry, Luis Nivelo and Romel Alvarez allege that the state education department and commissioner, state Board of Regents and board chancellor have not taken sufficient action to ensure the public school students’ constitutional right.

The state and board, represented by the office of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, have motioned for the petition to be dismissed, saying there is no statute that provides for further action. The school district has also become involved and has its own representation.

The district has seen deep cuts to programs and staffing at the hands of the local school board, which is controlled by the area’s Orthodox Jewish community, whose members send their children to private yeshivas. State leaders and advocacy groups have accused the board of making decisions that favor private school students at the expense of public school children, many of whom are low-income, have disabilities or are immigrants who don’t speak fluent English.

The state has been working with the school board to turn the district around, having appointed a monitor in the 2014-15 school year to report back to the education department with suggestions for legislative remedies.

Last year, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia appointed a team of three monitors to further review the district and work with the board to rebuild community trust and put the schools back on track. State lawmakers in June passed legislation that provided an additional $3 million in aid to the district and increased oversight power for the monitors and education commissioner. On Monday, Elia announced the appointment of a new monitor and that one of the three previous monitors would stay on for another year to assist the district.

Justice Elliott began Wednesday by asking if the petition was still necessary, given the recent legislation.

Lecker responded saying the “deep systematic problems” still need to be addressed and that the law, which expires in one year, “nearly continues the status quo.”

The parents, represented by Lecker, are asking that the education department move on recommendations already outlined by the state monitor reports. The commissioner, for example, could direct the district to “stop wasteful spending,” direct the allocation of resources and correct violations impeding the rights of English language learners, she said.

Assistant Attorney General Louis Jim said there is nothing in statute or in the constitution that would require the state to take the actions called for, and further said doing so would be an overreach over the school district and school board, which have “substantial power” under state education law.

“What they’re asking here is essentially a whole state takeover of the school district, which is not called for,” Jim said in oral arguments.

Elliott questioned what the outcome would be if he did order the commissioner to take further action, saying that if he orders her to correct some deficiencies, petitioners could again come in saying something different should have been acted on. “This is never going to end,” he said.

The court said it would reach out soon with a response to the petition.

Lecker told POLITICO New York she felt the justice was fair in hearing the arguments and in his questions.

“What we’re asking is the court to say this part of your duty …to correct the mismanagement and the damage done by this mismanagement,” she said. “All we’re asking the court to say is, ‘correct it, you’ve identified it, correct it. How you correct it is up to you, but correct it.'”

Read the state’s memorandum of law in support of a motion to dismiss here: http://politi.co/2byhRcC and read more on the case from the Education Law Center here: http://bit.ly/2b24Lol.

TimesUnion 8/15/16: Elia Appoints Retired SED Official as ER Monitor

Elia appoints SED veteran as East Ramapo monitor

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has named a retired 29-year veteran of the state Education Department as monitor for the troubled and controversial East Ramapo school district in Rockland County.

Charles Szuberla replaces Dennis Walcott and will continue to work with Cornell’s John Sipple who will work on budgetary matters there.

Read more…

Ashbury Park Press 8/10/16: Christie Approves $7.2 m for Lakewood NJ Private School Busing

Private Lakewood school buses get $7.2M from NJ

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie approved a pilot program this week that will allow private schools to directly control transportation for Lakewood’s nonpublic school students.

The program will create a consortium of private schools that will receive $7.2 million, or $2.4 million each year, to take responsibility for busing Lakewood’s nearly 19,000 nonpublic school students.

Read more…

NY Post 8/7/16: VCF Gets New Master

9/11 Victim Compensation Fund gets new master

NY Daily News 8/7/16: Thanks to Sheila Binbaum for Serving as Head of VCF

Job well done: Her wisdom helped 9/11 families soldier on

Sheila Birnbaum

Thanks and congratulations to lawyer Sheila Birnbaum, who well served the public good for five years as special master of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.

Working without compensation herself, Birnbaum wisely oversaw the award of financial assistance to more than 9,000 Ground Zero rescue and recovery workers (or their estates) under stringent constraints imposed by Congress.

Read more…

Dept of Justice 7/21/16: Lynch Appoints Rupa Bhattacharyya New Master of VCF

 Justice News

 Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Attorney General Lynch Names Rupa Bhattacharyya as Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch today announced that she has chosen Rupa Bhattacharyya to head the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) after current VCF Special Master Sheila L. Birnbaum steps down later this month.

Special Master Birnbaum will continue to the full-time practice of law at Quinn Emanuel, LLP, where she is a partner. Bhattacharyya, who currently serves as Director of the Justice Department’s Constitutional and Specialized Tort Litigation Section in the Civil Division’s Torts Branch, will assume her new position on July 21.

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NY Dailey News 8/3/16: Petition for De Blasio to Require Secular Teaching in Ultra-Orthodox Schools

EXCLUSIVE: 1,500 sign petition urging Mayor de Blasio to approve mandatory science, math and history lessons for Orthodox Jewish students

Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina are being pressured by 1,500 petitioners to approve and add math, science, and history lessons for Orthodox Jewish schools.

Critics are pushing Mayor de Blasio to force ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools across the city to provide state-mandated secular lessons with a new petition that has gathered 1,500 signatures, the Daily News has learned.

The progressive Jewish group Yaffed launched an online petition last month that calls on city schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña to enforce a state law requiring Yeshivas to provide students with traditional academic lessons in subjects such as science, math and history.

Read more…

Strong East Ramapo 8/1/16: ERCSD oversight in not swearing in Sabrina Charles Pierre for the ERCSD Board 2 year term

Andrew Mandel of Strong East Ramapo and Yehuda Weissmandl, ERCSD president, were interviewed on Susan Arbetter’ s Albany radio program today regarding the Sabrina Charles Pierre “oversight” and appointment of Joe Chajmovicz to the vacant board seat over Jean Fields, former Ramapo HS principal.

From Andrew Mandel, Strong East Ramapo:

Thank you to Albany political journalist Susan Arbetter for featuring East Ramapo on your daily radio show today (http://www.wcny.org/aug-1-2016-commissioner-maryellen-elia-andrew-mandel-board-president-yehuda-weissmandl-dave-catalfamo/).

Arbetter pressed Yehuda Weissmandl multiple times about why Ramapo High School principal Jean Fields was overlooked for the open board seat. He said he had to think about “the will of the majority” and who the “larger community” would want to serve.

First of all, how does President Weissmandl know that new board member Joe Chajmovicz would be the person that “the larger community” would want to serve? What qualifications or credentials does he have? What canvassing of the public was done? He said Jean Fields had been “handily defeated” in the election, yet she received 4,000 more votes than Chajmovicz, who has never run.

Let’s pretend that President Weissmandl is right. I then think we need to ask ourselves why the “larger community” would not want to extend an olive branch to public school families by appointing someone who represents them and why the number of seats currently occupied by private school advocates is insufficient.  The school board can NEVER claim an interest in building bridges when making a move like this.

Lastly, of course, the will of the majority was not particularly on the board’s mind when dealing with the swearing-in of Sabrina Charles-Pierre. President Weissmandl acknowledged that he himself had been sworn in properly under the same circumstances two years ago, but it got “missed” this time. This is awfully damning, no? Surely even Weissmandl can see that the importance of “the majority” appears to depend on which majority we’re talking about.

I’m glad that Weissmandl said he wants Sabrina to serve her full two-year term and is working to restore it. But neglecting Sabrina AND skipping over Jean Fields underscores the unwillingness of the board to be true partners.

City Limits 7/26/16: Ultra- Orthodox Yeshivas Need to Meet Secular Educational Requirements

CityViews: Ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas Need to Meet Their Educational Obligations

New York State law requires all children from six to sixteen to be educated in English, social studies, math, science, technology, visual arts and music, physical education, career and home studies, health, and library/information skills in a manner “substantially equivalent in amount and quality” to requirements for public school students.

Read more…