NY Community Comes Together to Fight for Justice in Local School District
In Rockland County, New York, just northwest of New York City, a large community of Haredi Jews live in the town of Monsey. While the vast majority of the Haredi community send their children to private yeshivas, they also control a majority of seats on the public school board for the East Ramapo Central School District. In this capacity, the school board oversees the major decisions for district’s students, 90% of who are students of color and not members of the Haredi community. While there are no legal concerns with this situation, many of the school board’s decisions over the past few years have called their motives into question.
Spring Valley High School was once a robust school, but since members of the Haredi community have won a majority of seats the school board in 2007, the school has fallen significantly behind other high schools in Rockland County. Dozens of classes, extracurricular activities and staff members have been cut or fired from the high school because of a lack of funds. The loss of these resources have devastated the school.
Many students can no longer earn enough credits to graduate in four years and the graduation rate has fallen to 72%, nearly 20% below the county average. East Ramapo middle schools have also seen funding and personnel cuts, with all middle school sports and music programs completely eliminated.
Multiple investigations and lawsuits are ongoing on the grounds of civil rights abuses, financial errors and exploiting special education laws to benefit private yeshivas. In addition to these gross injustices to the public education system in East Ramapo, a growing anti-Semitic sentiment in the county has been sparked by the situation.
In an effort to protect the public school system in East Ramapo and relieve the tension being felt across racial, religious and ethnic lines in the area, Interfaith leaders, including Reform rabbis, have formed Rockland Clergy for Social Justice, an organization pushing for the state to intervene in the school district. Late last month, Rockland Clergy for Social Justice–in partnership with Uri L’Tzedek—an Orthodox social justice organization—delivered a petition with over 1,000 signatures strongly urging Governor Cuomo to intervene in East Ramapo. Members of Rockland Clergy for Social Justice also met with Secretary to Governor Cuomo, Larry Schwartz, local members of the Assembly and Senate, and Senate and Assembly leadership.
In support of this effort, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
We are deeply concerned by the current situation in the East Ramapo Central School District that is inhibiting public school students from achieving their full potential. In the last few years, decreased resources have been directed to the public schools in the East Ramapo Central School District. This has resulted in many classes, extracurricular activities and staff have been cut at the public schools and in too many cases students can no longer get enough credits to graduate high school on time.
For generations of Jewish students, as they have been for generations of students from all backgrounds in every community across the country, the public schools were a crucial tool to rise from poverty to achievement in this country. We cannot allow the public schools to be weakened, denying this or future generations of students the same opportunities we and others have had.
We encourage the state to intervene as necessary to ensure that public educational opportunities are provided for all students in East Ramapo and beyond.
Photo courtesy of the Journal News