This story is part of a Journal News/Lohud series that revisits high-profile stories in our region.
After years of stalemate, efforts to improve public school education in East Ramapo achieved a measured victory in Albany this summer.
However, a pair of bills designed to improve private school education stalled as the legislative session ended in June.
“My bill will definitely be re-introduced,” said Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City. “Over the next few months we will continue our discussions and hopefully establish a workable model.”
Zebrowski and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern worked this year on bills they say were intended to improve education for private religious school students. Some of the students have been denied a basic secular education — such as adequate English — according to some advocates, parents and former students.
The aim of both bills: to enforce a law passed in 1928 that requires private schools to provide an education that is “substantially equivalent” to the instruction provided in public schools.
Zebrowski’s bill seeks to create a formal process for parents to complain to the state’s education commissioner and for the state to investigate such complaints.
“I have no amendments currently planned, but the language could always be tweaked as we work with SED (State Education Department) and Assembly staff,” said Zebrowski.
Jaffee co-sponsored Zebrowski’s bill, and, in May, proposed her own. That measure, co-sponsored by state Sen. David Carlucci, D-Rockland, aims to give the state a mechanism to capture information about the schools. District superintendents would be responsible for filling out a state standards report for each non-public school in the district.
“We didn’t have strong opportunity to have the dialogue with the education chair,” said Jaffee, noting that one amendment in her bill had already been made. “It was clear more time was necessary.”
Meanwhile, Cuomo’s budget earmarked $2 million to give life to the Office of Religious and Independent Schools, an office in the state education department created several years ago without adequate funding or staffing. The $2 million will go toward related staffing, resources and grants in service of the state’s nonpublic and religious schools.
On the public school front, Jaffee, Zebrowski and Carlucci co-sponsored a bill that led to the state Legislature approving $3 million in state aid to East Ramapo in exchange for the school board submitting its budget to the state education commissioner for approval. The commissioner would have the authority to make changes to the budget.
Legal efforts seeking improved secular education in East Ramapo religious schools are also quiet for the moment. A class action lawsuit, filed in November to provide boys at four East Ramapo Hasidic yeshivas with a sound, basic secular education was withdrawn in April.
“We are expanding the case and working actively on it. I can’t say yet when it will be finished,” said Laura Barbieri of Advocates for Justice, which filed the suit in federal court on behalf of unnamed parents of yeshiva students and former students.
PHOTO:Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, at a June 10 news conference near the Capitol with dozens of advocates of a bill that would install a monitor for the East Ramapo school district. (Photo: Joseph Spector/Gannett Albany Bureau)