Monsey, NY - Yeshiva Coalition Formed To Fight Bias In Rockland Fire Safety Inspections
Rockland County, NY - Fed up with what they describe as inflammatory remarks by those looking to find fault with yeshivos, representatives of multiple Orthodox and Chasidic schools in Rockland County have filed a complaint with the New York State Board of Education which recently authorized county officials to conduct fire safety re-inspections at approximately four dozen local private schools.
As previously reported on VIN News (http://goo.gl/1e4P5w), inspections were ordered at the county level after the state found violations in numerous yeshivos that had passed Town of Ramapo inspections. The inspector who performed those safety checks has since been demoted to a less senior position.
In an interview with News 12, Rabbi Moshe Schwab, principal of Yeshiva Degel Hatorah in Spring Valley, acknowledged that there are a few yeshivos that should likely be closed because of fire code violations, but said that the vast majority of Rockland County yeshivos are in compliance and are being unfairly targeted by County Executive Ed Day.
Rabbi Schwab charged that Day has an agenda when it comes to the Orthodox Jewish community, deliberately making provocative statements. In two recent press conferences, Day described scenarios of having to take children out of failing schools in body bags, remarks that were categorized by Dennis Lynch, lawyer for the newly formed School Religious Freedom Coalition representing numerous local yeshivos, as “proverbial political kidnapping of the school safety issue.”
Lynch said that while the state does have protocols for performing inspections when additional intervention may be required, they can only be done by neutral parties who are authorized to do so under state law, with free exercise of religion to be maintained at all times. Criticizing Day for threatening those found to be lax in school fire safety with jail time, Lynch said that the use of such forceful terminology is a clear indicator that the county executive is less concerned with school safety and more interested in using the issue for political gain.
“Our number one priority is school safety, but school safety cannot be politicized,” Lynch told VIN News.
Lynch declined to say exactly how many schools and individuals had joined the newly formed coalition, describing the number only as “dozens.”
“The coalition isn’t about the people but the issues,” explained Lynch. “Don’t politicize the issues and use children to your political advantage.”
A letter sent by Lynch to New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia warned that while the SRFC is committed to the safety of every child in every school, member yeshivos will not allow the county inspectors into their buildings, according to a Hamodia report.
The letter noted that state education law “does not identify, and instead notably omits, the County as an authorized inspector. Instead, New York State Education Law … only authorizes inspection by the County at the invitation of the school administrator. Please be advised no SRFC school administrator has authorized any such inspections.”
One inspector who went to visit a yeshiva in Pomona on Tuesday was turned away by the school’s administrator who advised him to contact the school’s lawyer and warned that trespassing on school property would result in immediate legal action.
The inspector reportedly responded by threatening the administrator saying, “Do you know I can close down the yeshiva?”
One yeshiva administrator of a large school who asked not be identified said the schools are happy to open their doors in the name of safety.
“We have no problem whatsoever with any inspections; we actually welcome it,” said the administrator. “But not Ed Day. Because Ed Day has a history of hate and animosity targeting the Orthodox community through social media. How can you have a person like that in charge of inspections?”
Day said he welcomed the opportunity to discuss the issues.
“If there is a new coalition out there we would welcome their input in a positive manner,” said Day. “We need to have a broad understanding of exactly how we got to where we are with years of ignoring fire and health codes and years of ignoring state and local laws.”
Day dismissed the notion that he has any vendettas against anyone and that it was the state, not the county, who found the schools to be in violation of the fire safety code.
“The state gave us the locations,” said Day. “We are discharging our responsibility. These schools have ignored the law.”
Day noted that the list of schools requiring further inspection included institutions of all denominations, with 26 of the schools failing to file their required safety reports while 23 more had undergone inspections that were later found to be problematic.
But one school administrator said that many schools across the state have been lax in submitting their state fire safety reports. The administrator noted that he had been told by a state official that Ramapo schools actually have a higher percentage of reports submitted than many other areas in New York and that of the four schools in Rockland that actually failed their inspections, none of the violations found would have forced the schools to close down.
Like Day, Lynch said the coalition’s goal is protecting schoolchildren and that the SRFC is happy to have an open dialogue about fire safety in county yeshivos.
“Safety is number one,” said Lynch. “We will sit down with anyone tomorrow and work together tomorrow.”
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