After a long, arduous effort this legislative session, the East Ramapo oversight bill failed to make it through the State Senate. This is a major setback after building momentum towards oversight in East Ramapo over the past few months with incredible advocacy from the community in East Ramapo and important contributions from the Reform Jewish community as well.
On June 12, just two days after a large community advocacy day in Albany — attended by East Ramapo activists, parents and students and RJV leaders and Reform rabbis — the Assembly voted on A. 5355 80-56 to appoint a monitor to oversee the school board in East Ramapo.
It was up to Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to bring the bill up for a vote, and after much advocacy directed at the Majority Leader, a “compromise” bill was introduced in the Senate that added further stipulations about the monitor. Most importantly, it singled out that the monitor could only override the board’s decisions if they were unlawful. The problem with this clause is that most of what the board has been doing has been technically legal, but nonetheless destructive to the public schools in East Ramapo.
The Assembly and Senate leads tried to work out a compromise, but ultimately the community behind this effort decided to stick to the original bill, S. 3821, and called on Leader Flanagan to bring it up for a vote. Even if there weren’t enough votes to pass the bill, it would have been an important marker in this journey to restore high quality public education in this school district.
As we come to terms with this defeat in this legislative session, further information has been released on the failings of the school board in East Ramapo. Two state reports outline the school district’s lack of support for students with limited proficiency in English, as well as its overall lack of effectiveness. This, after so much hard work in the community to change the school board, after the Greenberg report and now after the attempt to appoint a monitor via legislation, is another painful sign of how much oversight is needed.
RJV has been a key leader in the Jewish community in the work to pass A. 5355 and S. 3821, with numerous rabbis making calls to their legislators and the leadership to urge them to support oversight. There is no doubt that without their calls and the work of all the activists and endorsing organizations, East Ramapo would not have been one of the topline issues at the end of the session as it was this year.
As we regroup and restrategize for the next session, we remember these teachings from our tradition:
Rabbi Judah the Prince affirms: “The world endures only for the sake of the breath of schoolchildren.” It is the responsibility of every community to ensure the education of its young, by providing teachers who can inspire students, enabling each child academic mastery of his or her studies. We are enjoined to teach in a manner that affirms the student’s self esteem: Those who are shamed by their lack of skills are not able to learn” (Rabbi Hillel, Pirkei Avot 2:6).