Rockland County, NY - Jewish Community Cries Foul Over East Ramapo Report; Wieder Resigns As Democratic Head Of Legislature
Rockland County, NY - Four days after a 32 page report made numerous suggestions for changes in the troubled East Ramapo School district, local members of the Orthodox Jewish community continue to express emotions ranging from disappointment to outrage, including one county legislator who stepped down from a leadership position citing a conflict of interest.
As previously reported on VIN News, a three person committee headed by former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott observed the district for a 17 week period and recommended 19 improvements which included appointing a monitor with veto power over the school board.
Other recommendations included appointing a monitor to insure the fairness of all elections, a possible end to gender segregated busses and ensuring that one school board seat in every election be dedicated exclusively to public school parents. The report, which stated that the school board was successfully working hand in hand with the monitoring team, also acknowledged that the district is woefully underfunded and recommended that the state allocate additional monies to East Ramapo.
East Ramapo school board member Harry Grossman said that board was shocked by the contents of the report.
“We had been working extremely well with the monitoring team,” Grossman told VIN News. “They said we had been making changes. We brought in an interim superintendent. We changed law firms. We brought Sabrina Charles-Pierre onto the board. There were so many positive things going on. And then we got hit by a two by four.”
Grossman described certain sections of the report as “chilling,” saying that its insistence that one school board position be open only to candidates who are public school parents who have been chosen by an unspecified process that would exclude private school parents at every election was highly problematic.
“It is a complete violation of the voting rights act and they should know that,” said Grossman. “It is patently illegal.”
A statement released by Agudath Israel of America expressed dismay at the report which was titled “Opportunity Deferred.”
“There was every reason to be hopeful that continued cooperation between the monitors and the board would have resulted in further progress on these critical fronts. Unfortunately, these new recommendations may now set us back considerably,” said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of the Agudah, in the statement.
“This is not an ‘Opportunity Deferred’; it is an ‘Opportunity Squandered.’ The effort to undermine the authority of the board and dilute the voting power of the citizens of East Ramapo is unjust. Worse, it is potentially dangerous, as it feeds into the types of ugly stereotypes whose destructive potential we know all too well.”
At a press conference held this afternoon in the Rockland County Legislative Chamber in New City, Legislator Aron Wieder resigned his position as Democratic majority leader.
“The reason I chose this drastic step, to resign, was because some have turned my position as majority leader and strong advocate to protect constitutional rights and civil liberties of the Orthodox Jewish community here in Rockland County into a distraction away from the work of the county legislature and the democratic caucus,” said Wieder.
Wieder expressed incredulity at the contents of the report saying that there was a sense of optimism that better times were in site for the beleaguered district, with racial and religious tensions in East Ramapo finally starting to diminish.
“The terrible wound amongst the greater population, beyond the East Ramapo Central School District, was actually starting to heal,” said Wieder. “But on this past Monday, December 14, 2015, it all came crashing down and shattered. And I am afraid that, as it stands now, it is unfixable.”
Waving his own copy of John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, Wieder displayed the final page of the book, which is completely blank, observing that he had hoped that a new chapter, describing positive changes for all of the district’s children, was about to be written in the history annals of East Ramapo.
“It is extremely seldom and very rare for any person to have the opportunity to create a new chapter for himself in the book that President Kennedy has authored, Profiles in Courage, but when the opportunity arises and gets passed over it is a terrible, terrible tragedy.”
Rabbi Yosef C. Golding, Chief Operating Officer of the Agudah, expressed profound disappointment at the report, calling it “ an unprecedented measure that would severely undermine the authority of the board and the integrity of our democratic process.”
Quoting Rabbi Zwiebel who was unable to attend today’s press conference, Rabbi Golding singled out the report’s recommendation that a monitor be appointed to oversee future school board elections.
“There has been no evidence of any corruption of the election process, no findings of any voters being disenfranchised, no basis for treating East Ramapo as if we were some third world country.”
Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who traveled to Rockland County to take part in the press conference, waved an email he had received from the Rockland County Democratic Committee, bearing the subject line “Statement From The Executive Committee: Assemblyman Hikind, Go Home!”
Hikind chastised Democrats who objected to his presence and expressed bitter disappointment in Dennis Walcott, who he described as a good friend and colleague. Hikind noted that when Walcott was appointed to head the team of monitors he personally assured East Ramapo’s Jewish community that Walcott would be fair and that over the last several weeks there was every reason to believe that there was a brighter future ahead.
“Unfortunately, and it pains me to say this, Dennis Walcott stabbed this community in the back,” said Hikind.
“We were on our way, Dennis,” added Hikind. “What happened?”
No questions were taken after the press conference and both Wieder and Rabbi Golding left the room immediately after the conclusion of the press conference.
Speaking with VIN News later in the day, Wieder cast doubt on the legality of several portions of the report.
“It was extremely ironic,” said Wieder. “He talked about the way the transportation is being put together in the district is a problem constitutionally. The report is coming up with solutions that are even much more against the constitution and civil rights.”
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