NYCLU fights East Ramapo over trustee
Steve Lieberman, email@example.com 9:24 a.m. EDT August 26, 2016
Sabrina Charles-Pierre’s lost two-year term when district missed her deadline to take the oath of office by three days.
An influential civil rights legal organization has entered the battle to ensure a black elected trustee gets to serve her full two-year term on the East Ramapo Board of Education.
Sabrina Charles-Pierre saw her term cut in half in July when district officials realized she hadn’t taken the oath of office within the legal time frame. Charles-Pierre was elected in May to a two-year unexpired seat on the board, but wasn’t sworn in within 30 days of the election being certified, as required. She was sworn in three days after the July 11 deadline.
The Board of Education eventually appointed her to a one-year term and voted to appeal to the state after facing massive protests from residents at a July meeting.
On behalf of NAACP activist Oscar Cohen and the district’s large black and Hispanic constituencies, the New York City Liberties Union appealed to the state Department of Education.
In court papers just filed, the NYCLU argues that by removing Charles-Pierre from her properly elected seat, the board overturned the election results and rendered Cohen’s vote for her meaningless. The organization said in a news release the school board unfairly favored the needs of Orthodox Jewish children attending private schools over the public school students. The district has denied those allegations
“Black and Latino children make up over 90 percent of public school students in East Ramapo, but the school board, dominated by the supporters of the Orthodox Jewish community, consistently shortchanges them in favor of white students who attend religious and other private schools,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said.
She said “the board has now ignored the will of the voters and truncated the term of the only woman elected to the board – a black educator who campaigned on a platform to represent the interests of the public school community. The dysfunction, disempowerment and discrimination in East Ramapo schools has to end.”
Board President Yehuda Weissmandl has called the oversight in giving the oath to Charles-Pierre on time a mistake. The other board members who won election met the oath deadline.
Weissmandl said the board appointed Charles-Pierre to a year’s term at the direction of the school district’s attorney and in consultation with the Department of Education. A department spokesman confirmed that East Ramapo officials contacted the state office after they learned of the issue with Charles-Pierre’s seat and said they were directed to the Public Officers Law for guidance, as well as for information on the appeals process.
Cohen argued the state must act for the public school families.
“The only woman of color on the board was denied her elected seat because the board misread the law and shirked its administrative responsibilities,” Cohen said. “It is essential that the commissioner of education correct this perversion of justice and restore Sabrina Charles Pierre’s duly elected seat.”
Charles-Pierre, 29, the mother district children, was initially appointed to the board in October to fill a vacancy after Juan Pablo Ramirez resigned. During the May school board election, she ran unopposed to serve the remainder of the term, which is due to expire in June 2018.
East Ramapo has about 9,000 public school students in East Ramapo, while about 24,000 children attend local yeshivas.
Since 2005, the board, which is controlled by Orthodox Jewish men, cut 445 public school jobs, reduced kindergarten to a half-day and eliminated many extracurricular programs from the public schools, according to an Education Department report. At the same time, the board has increased spending on out-of-district special-education classes and busing to private schools while also spending the district’s precious resources to aggressively fight lawsuits.
As a result of these longstanding issues, a series of independent monitors have been appointed by the State Education Commissioner to oversee the district.