Schools Closed, But Not for All: Ultra-Orthodox schools are bustling—and busing—despite orders from Albany and Rockland County

By Kathy Kahn

 

 

 

School districts across the county—and the state, for that matter—have been dealing with the Covid 19 pandemic by shuttering schools and offering mostly remote learning, with a few days of in-class services for students.

 

That’s not the case in the town of Ramapo, however, where school buses are busily transporting thousands of children back and forth to private schools throughout the community in defiance of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate that schools, whether private or public, must follow the rules.

 

While Ramapo’s public-school district continues to struggle under the massive cuts to programs and services made by its Ultra-Orthodox school board members, its religious schools are thriving on public funding.

 

Adding salt to the school district’s budget wound is the $95,000 per student fee—plus transportation—that the East Ramapo School District pays to the Orange County Village of Kiryas Joel’s public school district despite best efforts to stop its formation—even the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional—it continues to thrive and has not, to this date, complied with any of the NYS Comptroller’s requests for details on the number of students, both in and out of the district and the costs for the same.

 

The majority of East Ramapo’s public schoolchildren may be considered “minority” students to some, but black, Hispanic, Asian, and other people of color make up 83 percent of the district’s total school population.  Even with two State-appointed monitors to oversee the school board, the district is still reeling from cuts to services, particularly now that students have been mandated to switch to online learning. The district is still waiting for more than 6,000 Chromebooks to be delivered for distribution to students for online learning.

 

While thousands of religious school students routinely attend school and daycare in the Ultra-Orthodox communities, its “outside” population is coping with disappointment and frustration as parents try to manage under difficult circumstances to follow through with their children’s education via the internet.

 

As the standoff between the Orthodox and the State continues, most of Ramapo parents are tired of the rhetoric coming from Albany and are anxious for their schools to reopen—at a bare minimum, they are hoping the backordered Chromebooks will be ready by the New Year.