Sign-On Letter: East Ramapo Central School District
This letter is a project of the NAACP Spring Valley Chapter, in partnership with the NYCLU.
Commissioner Betty Rosa
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12334
Dear Commissioner Rosa:
We are writing to request your immediate attention to the system of 21st Century Jim Crow education in the East Ramapo Central School District (ERCSD). As under Jim Crow, ERCSD is run by a white majority which uses its control of the district to benefit white students in segregated private schools at the expense of Black and Latinx students in the public schools. It is unconscionable that this is allowed to persist in New York in 2021. Despite the fact that the Commissioner of Education is granted tremendous regulatory and administrative oversight powers under the New York State Constitution, past Commissioners have taken no decisive action to intervene in ERCSD to address the systemic racism that dominates our schools. You have the opportunity to improve this situation for our students.
We are requesting a meeting with you at the earliest available date to address the concerns raised in the December 7, 2020 letter from the Spring Valley Branch of the NAACP as well as other important matters regarding ERCSD.
Of the nearly 9,000 students in ERCSD public schools, 92% are Black or Latinx, 37% are English language learners, and 89% are economically disadvantaged. These students have been systematically denied their right to an education. East Ramapo graduation rates are 62 percent in a county that averages 92 percent. There is not one single social worker to support students. From March to November of this year, 5,000 students were effectively denied access to any education whatsoever because the district failed to provide the equipment necessary for participation in remote learning. These examples are but the tip of the iceberg.
Your predecessors appointed monitors to provide oversight and accountability to ERCSD. But rather than serving as truly independent monitors, it appears that they are treating the district as a consulting client for whom they are providing technical assistance. And they give positive reports about ERCSD to the Board of Regents, which sweep the reality of 21st Century Jim Crow education under the rug.
There are mountains of public evidence that civil rights violations are ongoing in this district. Most recently, in May 2020, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York found ERCSD responsible for unlawfully manipulating the political process in order to maintain control of the school board, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The judge found that this control is used to privilege white, private school students and has a “discriminatory effect” on students of color. Additionally, in 2015, the Office of Civil Rights of the US Department of Education identified racially segregated special education and bilingual education programs in the district. OCR found “no evidence” based on “recognized educational theory” to justify this segregation. This case is still open. But the State Education Department has done nothing about these fundamental civil rights violations.
The NYS Comptroller audited ERCSD in 2019 and found that one-third of private school students receiving publicly financed transportation lacked the proper proof of eligibility. At the same time, the monitors reported that the district was taking the necessary steps to “ensure accuracy” in transportation determinations, not only taking the representations of the district at face value, but lending credibility to them. Under your predecessors we have seen nothing done to hold ERCSD accountable for the findings of the Comptroller.
Empowering the monitors to fulfill their responsibilities to the students of color in ERCSD would be but a first step towards addressing the pattern of systemic racism in the district. The situation is urgent and is beyond the power of the monitors to address alone. For example, when the monitors attempted to intervene in the school board’s decision to make public school spaces available for private summer camps during the pandemic, the board essentially ignored them. Your personal involvement in this issue will ensure the monitors can and do take effective positions against the school board. It is essential that NYSED plays a robust role in the oversight of ERCSD. You have the opportunity to send a message that what is happening in East Ramapo is not only a local issue, but has state and national civil rights implications.
Please contact Willie Trotman, President, Spring Valley Branch, NAACP at (845) 536-4845 to arrange a meeting with a representative delegation of our coalition.
Willie J. Trotman
President, Spring Valley Branch
Wilbur T. Aldridge
Mid-Hudson Regional Director
Dr. Hazel N. Dukes
President, NYS Conference
cc: Governor Andrew Cuomo
Speaker Carl Heastie
Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins
U.S. Representative Mondaire Jones
Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick
Senator James Skoufis
Assembly Member Kenneth Zebrowski
Assembly Member Michael Lawler
Members of the Board of Regents