Several parents of students attending New York’s troubled East Ramapo school district have notified New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Regents’ Chancellor Merryl Tisch that the State must take swift, affirmative action to remedy the East Ramapo Board of Education’s (Board) continuing failure to provide students a sound basic education as guaranteed under the New York Constitution. They have also made clear that if the Board does not implement long overdue reforms in the coming weeks, parents will sue to compel the Commissioner, Regents and New York State Education Department (SED) to act.
The East Ramapo parents and students are represented by attorneys at the national Education Law Center (ELC) and the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP.
The August 31 letter to the Commissioner and Chancellor details the findings of three separate evaluations of East Ramapo conducted by the SED over the past year. The evaluations document the Board’s gross mismanagement of district finances, including drastic cuts to teachers, support staff and programs in the public schools while doubling spending of district funds on expenditures for private schools. The SED also documented the Board’s “inexcusable” lack of transparency, wasteful spending on legal fees, neglect of the district’s English language learner students, and woeful lack of support to improve school performance.
The letter underscores that these and other actions by the Board have caused severe deficits in essential resources resulting in abysmally low outcomes, depriving East Ramapo students of a sound basic education.
The East Ramapo parents also make clear in their letter that the Commissioner, the Regents and the SED are obligated to safeguard students’ constitutional rights when faced with the Board’s continuing mismanagement and refusal to implement corrective measures. New York’s highest court has ruled that “the State remains responsible when the failures of its agents sabotage the measures by which it secures for its citizens their constitutionally-mandated rights.” In East Ramapo, the Board’s actions over the past ten years have, without question, “sabotaged” students’ access to a sound basic education.
The East Ramapo parents acknowledge the recent appointment by Commissioner Elia of another monitor to make recommendations to the Board and the community’s readiness to assist the State in its efforts. However, the parents want reforms during this school year and expect the Board to take immediate steps to re-allocate resources to district schools and fix district finances.
The notice to State Education officials was welcomed by East Ramapo public school supporters:
“Through a series of reports, the State Education Department has concluded that students in East Ramapo are clearly not getting what they deserve,” said Dr. Andrew Mandel, co-founder of Strong East Ramapo, a group of over 3,000 alumni and allies dedicated to improving public education in the district. “This letter makes it clear that the state has the responsibility to directly address this problem, not simply study it again or make recommendations.”
“In the 10 years that I’ve spent in the East Ramapo School District, the quality of our education has been decimated,” said Spring Valley High School junior Melissa Denizard. “We urge the State Education Department to make immediate positive changes in this district to ensure that future students will have an educational experience that’s dramatically better than what we’ve been forced to endure.”
“We believe that all of our children have the right to an educational experience which prepares them for a successful future. As clergy, we cannot and will not be silent while students in the East Ramapo School District are denied the right to thrive,” said Rabbi Adam Baldachin of the Montebello Jewish Center and Rockland Clergy for Social Justice.
“We are grateful for these parents standing up to demand immediate action on behalf of the civil rights of all of East Ramapo’s public school children. The decade-long deprivation of services and opportunities endured by students cannot be allowed to continue,” said Wilbur Aldridge, Mid-Hudson, Westchester Region Director, NAACP.
“We have no time to waste,” said Luis Nivelo, one of the leaders of Padres Unidos, a group of Latino parents who send their children to district schools. “The State Education Department should make changes now so that we do not let another group of students miss out on a quality education.”
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