For over a decade, critics have alleged that the East Ramapo Central School District engages in a system of “21st century Jim Crow.” They claim that the education of white students attending private religious schools in the district is prioritized over the education of students of color who attend the public school.
This dynamic remains intact because of the hold that the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community maintains over the school board.
But a few changes have taken place over the past year that could help loosen that grip.
First, a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) successfully showed that the district violated voting rights of the Black and brown community. Second, a new law passed this session (A.5683/S.6052) gives the East Ramapo Schools’ fiscal monitor veto power over the school board.
But in a new report titled “Private Privilege, Public Pain,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman urges the state to do more.
“The state needs to watch this district like a hawk because they take every opportunity to fail the public school children,” Donna Lieberman told Capital Tonight. “We want the commissioner of education to investigate a wholesale investigation into malfeasance.”
NYCLU’s report calls on the State of New York to do the following to “truly end the crisis”:
- Granting the commissioner of education budget authority over school districts like East Ramapo – where the private school population significantly outnumbers the public school population – to ensure public schools have adequate operating funds.
- Capping the hourly rate a district can spend on outside counsel, to ensure public dollars go to students, not the accounts of high-dollar law firms.
- Extending the right to vote in school board elections to all parents, regardless of citizenship status. Many non-white adults in East Ramapo, whose children attend public schools, are not citizens and are not permitted to vote.
- Undertaking a wholesale investigation of malfeasance in East Ramapo, including holding accountable those responsible for wrongdoing.
The East Ramapo Central School District did not immediately return to multiple requests for comment.