Spring Valley, NY – The large Orthodox Jewish community here sends most of its children to private schools but took control of the public school district six years ago.
Now, there’s a heated school board election pitting three Orthodox Jewish candidates against so-called “public school candidates,” who have or had children in the school system.
Critics say the current school board has favored private schools, closing two public schools and arranging for them to be used by yeshivas, or private Jewish schools.
Members of the Orthodox Jewish community say the board is acting appropriately and trying to make sure that the needs of children attending private school aren’t ignored.
At a Parent Teacher Association candidate’s forum last week, the only candidates that showed up were public school candidates. None of their opponents made an appearance.
It was the same story at an NAACP candidate’s forum earlier this month. The Orthodox candidates complain they never received an invitation.
“There has been a lot of division, unfortunately,” said Kim Foskew, president of the Parent Teacher Association Council. “I wish there weren’t. People are getting angry. It’s just the culmination of everything and it has built up a lot of animosity.”
Similar power struggles have taken place in communities with large Orthodox populations, such as Lawrence, Long Island, and Lakewood, N.J. But in the East Ramapo district, residents say the conflict has reached the breaking point. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the New York Civil Liberties Union have written letters to school officials expressing concerns about various issues in the district.
Situated about 35 miles northwest of New York City, the East Ramapo district faces an unusual situation. Its public student population of roughly 8,100 is dwarfed by a private student population of about 20,000. The majority of private students are educated in yeshivas.