Rockland County’s executive agreed Monday to wait two days to begin inspecting the yeshivos he says he was given authority over by the state but that is disputed by a newly formed coalition of yeshivos.
However, a spokesman for the group, called the School Religious Freedom Coalition, says that every one of the 49 yeshivos that required re-inspection have either been rechecked by Town of Ramapo officials or are expected to be by Tuesday. That negates the need for inspections by County Executive Ed Day, a Republican elected by appealing to the anti-Orthodox Preserve Ramapo group.
The yeshivos have not objected to safety inspections but insisted that Day has proven that he is not focused on safety but on an overarching goal of reducing Rockland’s Orthodox population.
“Our community was never opposed to any inspections,” the spokesman said. “But when an inspector shows up with a media crew, he’s not here to inspect, he’s here to play politics.”
Dennis Lynch, an attorney for the yeshivah coalition, noted that Day had notified the media when his inspectors will be visiting yeshivos — but did not tell the yeshivos of his alleged new authority.
“Clearly, the political orchestration of the inspections continues as news media are tipped off by the only entity that would know the timing of the inspections — namely County Executive Day,” Lynch wrote in an email to Day’s counsel. “This continued use of the media to politicize school safety issues [is] lamentable and clearly unconstitutional.”
A letter from the state on Monday ordered Day to remove 12 schools who have since been inspected by Ramapo officials from the list. The rest are expected to be removed by Tuesday.
“The schools below have complied with education law,” a spokesman for state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia informed Day. “Please remove the following schools from the inspection list immediately.”
Day, who is on record as saying that his goal with the Orthodox community is to “try to slow their growth down,” had threatened to get yeshivah heads fined or jailed if they did not allow his inspectors in. He backed off on Monday after the yeshivah group’s attorney questioned his authority.
Day attempted to spin the compromise as a victory, issuing a press release that the yeshivos have “acquiesced to our demands.” But a spokesman for the coalition said that the deal ensures that Day’s inspectors will not be allowed into the yeshivos.
The majority of the 49 yeshivos on the list were scrutinized by Ramapo’s previous fire inspector, Adam Peltz. He was suspended last month for signing off on unsafe conditions, and the state then required all schools with Peltz’s signature to undergo a new inspection. Some of the others on the list passed inspection but failed to submit a routine form to the state. That was done by Monday afternoon.
For the rest of the list, three Ramapo inspectors visited on Friday and Monday, and are expected to complete the entire list by Tuesday.
The situation began in April, when Peltz was criticized by the state for shoddy inspections and was subsequently demoted. Day then began pushing the state for oversight over the inspection process.
On Thursday, Elia, the education commissioner, granted Day the authority, deputizing county inspectors at the request of the local assemblyman, Kenneth Zebrowski, a Democrat. Day then called a press conference in which he bombastically threatened yeshivah administrators with “jail” if they refused to cooperate and talked about his concern of seeing “children [taken out] in body bags.”
Elia, according to people who spoke with her in recent days, was turned off by the rhetoric and contemplated removing Day’s authority.
Day’s inspectors began going around to yeshivos that same day, before even formally informing them of his new authority. At the advice of their attorney, the yeshivos politely brandished a letter from Lynch informing the inspector that Day did not receive a proper mandate from the state and that they had no right to conduct safety checks.
The yeshivos say they’ll accept inspections from anyone — the state, nearby counties, other fire departments, but not from Day, who has singled out the Orthodox community for harrassment.
Lynch said that the first formal contact the yeshivos received from Day was an email late Friday. The attorney took issue with both the timing of the email and the constitutionality of Day’s authority over the process.
“That the County Executive did not know,” Lynch wrote in a letter dated Sunday, “that the aforesaid schools already have staff and school children released at the time your letter was transmitted late Friday afternoon during Shabbos preparation … speaks either to a striking disregard by the County Executive of the religious civil rights of those schools and students or outright hostility to the exercise of those religious rights.”
Lynch added that the state Constitution allows only the state education commissioner or a local fire department to conduct inspections, not a county chief.
“Remarkably,” he wrote, “the County Executive and his office are NOT referenced as an entity allowed to conduct” inspections.
Lynch then said that in any case, yeshivos need time to prepare for inspections, saying they will be ready by Wednesday morning. Day accepted the timetable, calling it a sign the yeshivah group has “changed its mind.”
“Nobody wants to put our children in danger,” one yeshivah head told Hamodia last week. “We live for our children.”