Over the past couple of years, reports from two separate state monitors assigned to the East Ramapo School District have found that children attending East Ramapo public schools are not receiving equitable and just access to educational opportunities. Jewish values call on us to cherish education and pursue justice, and both are at risk for the children attending public school in East Ramapo.
The East Ramapo School District in Rockland County, NY includes a large Orthodox Haredi community and a large African American and Hispanic immigrant community. The East Ramapo School Board is composed of 70% Haredi members, even though most Haredi children in this school district attend private yeshivas and most African American and Hispanic children attend the public schools.
While this arrangement is legal, the Board’s motives and actions have been called into question. In the last few years, many classes, extracurricular activities and staff have been cut at the local public schools. There are also accusations of the School Board selling public school buildings to yeshivas at below market rates and sending Haredi children to yeshivas using public money by illegally exploiting special education laws.
A bill in the New York State legislature (A.10723/S.8131) wouldprovide much-needed oversight by giving the Commissioner of the State Education Department the power to approve or deny the district’s budget and major transactions. For students of every background and every generation, public schools have served as crucial tool to rise from poverty to achievement. We encourage the state to pass this bill, which would help ensure that all students in East Ramapo have access to public education designed to broaden their opportunities in their next phase of life.
Our Reform Jewish values uphold the importance of an equitable public education system. In the Yerushalmi Talmud we are taught, “in a city where there are both Jews and Gentiles, the collectors of alms collect from both Jews and Gentiles; they feed the poor of both, visit the sick of both; bury both and restore the lost goods of both, for the sake of peace.” The public schools of East Ramapo must be no different, a place of learning and opportunity for all children, and a source of pride for all of us, no matter our faith or background.
The Reform Movement has long recognized the importance of public education to American Jews and to all citizens. In our 2001 resolution on public education, the URJ stated:
"Historically, the public schools have been the ladder that American Jews, and so many others, used to climb from poverty to affluence in American life. Today, Jews remain deeply devoted to the public school system; for many North American Jews, public education is the most hallowed of civic virtues."
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