Over the past few months, a number of important developments have taken place in East Ramapo. These all shed some light on the future of the school district, but also leave many questions unanswered. First, a new team of monitors, led by former New York City schools chancellor Dennis Walcott, has been visiting schools and meeting with community members since August. Their job is to keep track of East Ramapo School District’s operations and make sure that money is being managed properly and students are receiving a quality education. While the monitors do not have the ability to veto decisions made by the school board, Walcott’s goal is “for action to take place in the long term and the short term” to improve conditions in the district. The monitors have tried to remain impartial in their statements, as they work to compile a report due in December.
The U.S. Department of Education has also joined the debate, responding to complaints filed by the NAACP about discrimination in the district. The department’s Office of Civil Rights has found evidence of some cases of racial discrimination. Specifically, they determined that out-of-district special education placements disproportionately went to white children and that the district was offering more classes for English language learners in Yiddish than it was in Spanish or Creole. The Office of Civil Rights stopped their investigation of the district when the school board agreed to a 12-point plan to address these and other complaints.
Finally, Deborah Wortham started as the interim superintendent of East Ramapo Schools on November 2. She was recommended by the monitors, and they have high hopes for her ability to make improvements in the district. She has gained some support from parents and legislators, and everyone is watching closely to see how she will work with the community and the school board and what changes she can make.
The outcome of the monitors’ report, the school board’s progress on their plan and Wortham’s performance will all inform what steps the legislature will need to take this spring. As the situation develops, we remain committed to robust public schools, proper financial management and strong oversight in East Ramapo.