Organizations demand state takeover at East Ramapo schools due to ‘environmental racism’ akin to Flint, Michigan
Organizations are calling on the State of New York to take over a Rockland school district following a failing report about buildings infrastructure.
The East Ramapo Central School District is under fire, with the New York Civil Liberties Union and dozens of other groups penning a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul and other lawmakers.
"The East Ramapo School District is a district that has been deteriorating (for) over about a decade now,” says NYCLU’s director of the Education Policy Center Johanna Miller.
The letter comes after a state-mandated conditions survey found every school building in the district to be in failing condition.
The groups compared the findings at East Ramapo to “environmental racism seen in Flint, Michigan” because of lead still being found in water there, even though it was discovered years ago. Now the groups want the state to step in and fix the issues before school starts again.
"Turning off the taps is not an adequate solution. All children need access to safe drinking water and the state needs to take over the district and make sure they can get that,” says Miller.
School District Superintendent Dr. Clarence Ellis acknowledged lead in the water was a problem before he started in the position.
“We understand the latest Building Condition Survey shows the need for significant upgrades in our buildings. The issue of lead in the water was inherited by this administration,” says Ellis. “We are reviewing different financial options to make the necessary improvements, especially ones that directly impact the health and safety of our students and staff."
A spokesperson for the state’s Department of Education added in a statement, “The Department has and continues to support and work in conjunction with the state-appointed monitors to ensure progress continues and the educational rights of every East Ramapo student are met.”
They go on to say the district is spending almost $91 million from federal COVID funding to make improvements, more than any other in the state.
JP O'Hare, New York State Education Department:
"The New York State Education Department believes in creating a safe and supportive learning environment for all students and is committed to ensuring equitable access to high quality instructional opportunities and social-emotional supports for all New Yorkers.
The Department has and continues to support and work in conjunction with the state-appointed monitors to ensure progress continues and the educational rights of every East Ramapo student are met.
Through the state-appointed monitors, there has been increased oversight and scrutiny on the financial and academic outcomes for East Ramapo. Over the last several years, Department staff from multiple program offices have worked very closely with the district and the monitors to begin addressing facilities issues because its needs were so great.
As a result of that collaboration and planning, the district is spending nearly $91 million of federal Covid-response dollars on facilities improvements—more than any other district in the state.
There still is much work to do.
The Department will continue this important work towards the shared ideals and goals of the students and parents of East Ramapo."
New York Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski:
"I have spent my entire career working with the NAACP and public school advocates to try and improve this district. While East Ramapo currently has the strictest oversight in the state, the voters continue to vote down budgets more frequently than any other district in the State.
This is creating a fiscal calamity for both district infrastructure and programming. We cannot turn our backs on these students, some of the neediest kids in Rockland, and must figure out a way to meet their needs.
Obviously the normal local control model is not working in this district, given the fact that the public school students are vastly outnumbered by private school students and voters. We must develop a unique governance structure that faces this reality so that these kids get the services they deserve. I am currently having discussions with the NAACP, NYCLU and parents to develop a proposal to achieve that.”
New York state Sen. Bill Weber: "For over two decades, the condition of school buildings in East Ramapo has remained a persistent and concerning issue. This matter deeply troubles me as the new state senator representing Rockland County. In 2021, the district received $150 million in ARPA funds, a good start toward making critical upgrades, but more is needed. In the short term, we need to work with the governor, Legislature, and SED on a bipartisan basis to help the district make the rest of the necessary repairs and capital improvements.
On a broader basis, I have taken the initiative to introduce a crucial bill (S4510A) in the New York State Senate. Originally proposed by former Assemblyman Mike Lawler, this bill addresses the financial burden imposed on districts with 25% or more private students by requiring the State to assume responsibility for transportation and other mandated costs. By passing this legislation into law, we can ensure that the state takes over the burden of funding transportation, freeing up vital funds within the school district.
With more funds available, the district can prioritize and allocate resources to provide students with safe, conducive learning environments that foster academic growth and well-being. Additionally, this measure will benefit neighboring communities with similar demographics.