Budget cuts wreak havoc on East Ramapo schedule

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schedule 1This week art teacher T. Angel Cherney-Haring began her third year substitute teaching in the East Ramapo school district and anticipates answerless questions.

“They ask me when art is coming back,” Cherney-Haring said with dismay. “The most honored places in the world are museums that contain priceless pieces of art. The history of the world is told through art.”

An art teacher for 16 years, she spoke of the frustration she and colleagues face when children don’t know the basics in art because this reflects other subjects. “One art workshop a year for the whole school in an assembly is not art. Singing a song during morning announcements is not music,” she said.

Minus AP classes and previously-available art electives, students don’t have enough electives choices for college acceptance and are unable to create a portfolio for art school admission, Cherny-Haring says. Many electives have been slashed due to controversial budget cuts by the school board.

Art and music are mandated to be taught for 10 percent of the school day in elementary school. If an art or music teacher is no longer teaching the classes, the classroom teachers would need to be trained. Without training, overloaded with Common Core and testing, how can teachers meet the state’s art and music standards?

Spring Valley High School graduate Olivia Castor was interviewed by WBEZ producer Ben Calhoun on “This American Life,” the PRX Public Radio Exchange (it aired September 12, 2014).

“We would always complain to the school board about scheduling,” the Harvard University junior said. “And what would happen is, like, the school board would always respond and say, well, that’s not true. You guys are making it up.”

Castor collected schedules and showed them to the school board for response. “They told me those must be fake,” she said of the schedules that showed study halls, lunches, and community service.

“It’s not that we don’t care about graduating,” Castor told Wallace-Wells. “It’s that the tools for us to graduate are being taken away. We don’t have the classes that can give you a chance to compete.”

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Last Friday Rionard Alexis received her 16-year-old son’s schedule in the mail: three study halls, four lunch periods and one adapted physical education class.

“I went to school to plan his curriculum and meet with the special education department last March or April to see what classes he’ll take,” Alexis said. “We already had those meetings so I was surprised to see this schedule in the mail.”

A call to her sister revealed her 18-year-old nephew, also a special needs student, had the same schedule. “How to get anything changed when the schedule comes in the mail Friday?” she asked. “With special needs children you have to plan, they have to know in advance where they’re going. They can’t be wondering what will happen.”

Alexis attended the school board meeting about transportation last Thursday and said her son and nephew secured their bus passes about two weeks ago. Yesterday she was to have met with her son’s guidance counselor to sort out his schedule.

Tuesday of this week she met with SVHS Assistant Principal Paul Finkelstein and Principal Karen J. Pinel to sort out the schedule.

“He (Finkelstein) he told me I’m making it seem like it’s my fault and said it’s not the fault of the board or the school,” Alexis said. “He asked me to give him a chance to clarify it. I told him I’m angry I got this schedule on Friday with no chance to talk with the school because Monday was a holiday. I’m angry at the district for cutting classes we need.”

Alexis was given the corrected schedules for her son and her nephew.

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District parent David A. Curry and other parents want to see actions that will lead to their children getting the education they’ve been missing, their attorneys told Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Chancellor Merryl Tisch.

In a letter dated August 31, 2015, Education Law Center Executive Director David G. Sciarra and O’Melveney & Myers LLP attorneys Gary Svirsky and Brad Elia wrote a five-page documenting how the school board “failed to provide District students with the opportunity for a sound basic education—an opportunity guaranteed to them by Article XI of the New York Constitution.”

“These kids are being denied essential resources critical to their education, and being denied those resources in large part by cuts made by the board,” Education Law Center senior attorney Wendy Lecker told the Rockland County Times. “The board can do things like reallocate money now,” Lecker said.

This is a unique and egregious situation, she said.

“As we said in the letter, we put the state on notice that it has to generate real results for the district’s students,” Education Law Center senior attorney Wendy Lecker told the Rockland County Times. “If we don’t see some progress on items such as those identified in the Greenberg report in the coming weeks,  then we’ll be forced to take legal action. The state has the power and mandate to protect the constitutional rights of these kids.”

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