Crowd Blasts East Ramapo School Board, Demanding Answers

STORY BY JANIE ROSMAN

Reverend Weldon McWilliams IV addresses school board Tuesday night
Reverend Weldon McWilliams IV addresses school board Tuesday night

One by one they stood at the microphone Tuesday night reprimanding, questioning and telling East Ramapo school board members what’s on their minds.

“I miss art and music, and I wish you would bring it back because art and music is important to me. Thank you,” one student implored board members, who listened silently as the community voiced frustration.

Clapping, cheers and chants followed each speaker.

First Baptist Church Reverend Weldon McWilliams IV welcomed the board members to ‘the season of agitation.’

“The community is prepared to do whatever they feel is necessary to ensure that 9,000 public school students also receive a fair and decent education,” McWilliams said.

Protestors at packed school board meeting Tuesday
Protestors at packed school board meeting Tuesday

Turning his attention to board members Bernard Charles, who was absent, and Pierre Germain, he said, “It’s no secret that this school district is 90 percent children of color, and I want to give you the same charge that was given to former school board member Juan Pablo Ramirez: to not sell out this community, and not be a mere token for the board.”

McWilliams and other speakers told the board its next appointee (to fill Ramirez’ spot) “needs to be a woman.”

“When you make a decision, it must be the best decision for the children and not of the individuals on this board,” parent Betty Carmand told the board. Directing her comments to Germain, whose children go to private school, she said, “If you are comfortable with the decisions you make, then send your children to this district.”

Betty Carmand addresses school board
Betty Carmand addresses school board

“They’re missing opportunities to prove to the parents that they’re willing to discuss education, which hasn’t been discussed in years,” Carmand said the next day. “It’s always been about a lawsuit. If the money (they’re spending) was coming out of their pockets do you think they would be this reckless?”

She wants the board to start talking about what programs it will implement in the district. “My son is going into 7th grade, and once that education is gone, you can’t take it back.”

“The tide is turning. Forget sink or swim – for the board members, it’s either sink or sink faster,” advocacy group Get Up, Stand Up: East Ramapo co-founder Eric Grossfeld said. “Since this board is used to acting solely in its own best interest, I sincerely hope they now realize resigning, too, is for their own good.”

The group Get Up, Stand Up has been protesting weekly during the summer at board member’s homes. Last week it met at member Yonah Rothman’s home, where impassioned pleas like this reverberated throughout the neighborhood.

Sunday protest/Eric Grossfeld
Sunday protest/Eric Grossfeld

“You heard the community leaders, you heard the parent leaders, but as a student I, now I, am speaking out because we are sick of the injustices,” one protester said into a megaphone aimed at Rothman’s house. “This is the ‘season of agitation,’ and I will be here every step of the way.”

Anthony Melé, a 2007 candidate for Ramapo town supervisor, spoke calmly to the board and offered to fill a recently vacated seat. He said, “There is no cause more noble than that of the pursuit of higher education, and no sentient more fierce than a parent protecting their children.”