New York - VIN News Editorial: Immediate Action Needed In E Ramapo?
New York - There are times when action versus non-action is critical; when decisive leadership is necessary, rather than a mere statement of being “deeply troubled” and talk of “taking something under advisement.”
The rapidly developing situation in the Ramapo school district has the worst elements of a political nightmare; the school board is faced with both a sudden crisis and a smoldering one. And the consequences and repercussions of them are anything but good.
The sudden crisis was brought about by the rapid decline of civility by the board’s lawyer, Chris Kirby. Indeed, Kirby’s behavior involved a misogynistic rampage of the worst kind, including abusive behavior, horrific language, threatening behavior and a bullying of a type that one saw in unguarded schoolyards in the 1950’s.
The smoldering crisis is that many people in the Ramapo District, in the media, and in a growing chorus of voices beyond Ramapo are appalled at what seems to be a lack of “perspective-taking” skills - the ability to consider the point of view and educational needs of many in the district’s constituency.
The confluence of both of these crises together is what the district’s leadership is facing now. The problem is that it is not just the district leadership which looks bad. It reflects negatively on the entire observant Jewish community throughout New York and beyond.
When observant Jews take public or elected office they must be fully cognizant of the potential for Chilul Shem Shamayim of an order that they may never have fully comprehended in the past. They must be fully prepared for every contingency, such as these two forms of crises. Their behavior when dealing with any issue, indeed, every crisis is reflective of Torah and our way of life. This is true whether we like it or not.
If they fail to act properly when faced with such an extreme lack of professionalism and basic human decency, it gives the impression that the Torah tolerates such behavior. And it doesn’t.
The leadership of the school district must act immediately and decisively. They need to show that there is zero room for tolerance of misogynistic behavior in education. This is both an American value as well as a Torah value.
Despite the difficult logistics of a holiday weekend, pushing off a meeting that calls for decisive action until 7:00 PM on a Monday is wrong. Much stronger action is called for. The board must make an immediate and public apology for what has transpired under their watch, and apologize for their silence during the incident. While one school board member did publicly state he regrets not taking a strong stance and publicly rebuking Mr. Kirby immediately after his offensive statements, the school board itself must publicly renounce Mr. Kirby’s deplorable behavior.
They must also issue statement that the law firm representing them will be dismissed unless it issues a strong statement of regret and apology or it places Mr. Kirby on an immediate leave of absence.
Until now, there has been a failure in leadership in the manner in which the school board elected officials have handled things.
They have not prepared for and prevented this type of crisis event. They have dealt with Mr. Kirby for some time, and could have seen this coming.
This is not to say that a member of the Ramapo board did not heroically try to diffuse the situation. He did try, but part of leadership means to see things coming – in the language of the Talmud to be “ro-eh es hanolad.”
The leadership of the school district should also use this incident to adopt a learning attitude. Heavy-handedness and not listening to the earnest pleas of the districts constituents is a violation of the idea behind the Torah’s command to judges to genuinely listen – “Shamoa Bain Achichem.” The Peggy Hattons of the world are people with genuine needs.
While it is true that the needs of observant Jews were ignored and perhaps even trampled upon in the past in the Ramapo district, this is not a reason to bear a grudge.
An emergency meeting should be declared and a statement should be issued immediately. The statement should be very strong and use the term “zero-tolerance for abusive behavior.”
Anything less will just further compound the ongoing Chilul Hashem that is happening in Ramapo.
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