East Ramapo Schools Crisis: Rockland Ministers Take Their Case to Albany

 Group set to meet with leaders of Assembly, Senate

BY BILL DEMAREST

NYACK – A group of about 30 Rockland County ministers from different churches and faiths are traveling to Albany on Wednesday morning to meet with leaders of the state Senate and Assembly, who will hear pleas from the ministers for state intervention in the troubled East Ramapo School District.

After joining forces locally, the ministers are hoping they can be a nonpartisan voice for change and can convince state lawmakers that conditions in the East Ramapo district have gotten so bad that outside action is needed, according to Paul Adler, social action coordinator for the Nyack NAACP branch.

Leaders of both of Rockland’s NAACP branches, in Nyack and Spring Valley, are supporting the efforts of the ministers. Adler said the the ministers are also scheduled to meet with officials in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office as part of their lobbying effort.

Spring Valley NAACP president Willie Trotman said he also plans to join the trip to Albany.

“The ministers have become very involved because they have found this is affecting their congregations and their churches,” Trotman said today in Nyack. “For some congregations, they are losing members. People are moving away because of the problems with the schools.”

Earlier this month, Rockland County clergy members gathered at First Baptist Church in Spring Valley as a group to call for Cuomo to authorize immediate fiscal and administrative oversight over East Ramapo School District.

The ministers say their call for action comes after the East Ramapo School District board has reduced services to students – most of whom are African-American, Haitian American and Hispanic – to bare bones, eliminating or sharply curtailing academics, science and math electives, music and art, athletics, guidance counselors, social workers and assistant principals.

After extensive complaints from parents in the district, the ministers have joined the chorus of Rockland residents who say a cultural clash is at the heart of a conflict in which a public school district is essentially being dismantled by a group that sends its children to private schools.

Opponents of the East Ramapo School Board, comprised mostly members of the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, contend the district is diverting public funds to segregated religious schools.

“I think this is very important that the leadership of both the Assembly and the Senate have agreed to meet with the ministers,” said Adler, a longtime NAACP member. “The ministers are going to bring the message that change is needed in the East Ramapo School District, which has become a plague on the county. I think they are going to come out of Albany with some real change.”

Although the ministers had their rally in Spring Valley, Adler said the group felt compelled to take their message directly to Albany.

“I think there is a feeling that nobody has been listening,” Adler said. “What we’ve arranged is more than just a talk session.

Adler, a former Rockland County Democratic Party leader who remains an influential Democrat, said he believes the ministers have gotten the attention of the state Legislature leadership because they are a non-political, non-partisan group that represent many different people.