East Ramapo to appeal special education court ruling
The East Ramapo Central School District announce last week they intend to challenge a State Supreme Court ruling against the practice of subsidizing private religious education for disabled students. The court ruled on December 30 that the school district violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by declining to place students in the “least restrictive environment” in favor of private religious schools which were more in line with parental preferences. However, the district argues the placements are more cost-effective and less likely to create conflict with parents. On the question of student placement, East Ramapo lost twice in court. This year, it is projected to spend $2.66 million on this case and other legal battles which have plagued it throughout the past few years.

Monsey fire district votes to silence fire horn
The Board of Commissioners for the Ramapo Fire District voted last Wednesday to turn off the Grove Street fire horn and will now notify fire personnel of emergencies solely with pagers. The vote was split 3-2, but eventually ended with the immediate disabling of the whistle, which has been a point of contention between residents who feel it is intrusive and fire personnel who believe it is a vital safety measure. The whistle is often used as a backup for other systems and is not usually characterized as the sole means of fire personnel notification. Before the recent shutdown, the last time the whistle was silenced was 2011. It was back in operation three months later when the board reversed its decision.

Spring Valley owes $825,000 to County for community development program
Citing the village’s federally-funded urban renewal program, the County is demanding the Village of Spring Valley pay $825,000 by a February 28 deadline. The sum, which was discovered through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development audit of the village, was income from the construction and sale of Spring Valley Family Housing, a mixed commercial and residential building on North Main Street in 2012. The income from the sale was required to be used for other community development programs, but was never reported or returned to the County’s Office of Community Development. The County has stated it is willing to work with all necessary parties for the return of the money. Spring Valley Mayor Demeza Delhomme argued, however, that the county should share some of the burden and that the demand was unreasonable on such short notice.

Skimming device discovered on Sloatsburg Travel Plaza fuel pump
A device used to skim credit and debit information from motorists was discovered on a fuel pump at the Sloatsburg Travel Plaza on February 11, prompting a state response and cautions to businesses and cardholders. Authorities have determined the device had been in place for only a short period of time, but they are unsure how much cardholder information has been compromised. Customers at the stations were urged to monitor their transactions and keep an eye out for fradulent purchases in their records. Skimmers are not unusual for the Lower Hudson Valley. Similar devices have also been found at Metro-North ticket machines, particularly in Chappaqua where three were found in late 2013.

Former Fox 5 reporter convicted of sex crimes against 4 year old girl
Charles Leaf, an Emmy award-winning journalist and former Fox 5 investigative reporter, was convicted February 20 on charges of possession of child pornography and child sexual abuse. Leaf was arrested after an eight year old girl accused him of sexually assaulting her when she was four. The case was a complicated one where the victim said she had lied about the abuse and was put up to the task by her nanny, Weronika Karwowska. Leaf’s defense attornneys attempted to prove Karwowska and prosecutors had coached the victim and that child pornography found on his computer belonged to his father-in-law, a Polish citizen. Assistant Bergen County District Attorney Kenneth Ralph countered by arguing the girl was attempting to quickly end the trial and the nanny story was not consistent. Ultimately, Leaf was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, child endangerment, possession of child pornography and tampering with evidence. He faces up to 20 years in prison and lifelong parole for the aggravated sexual assault alone.

School launches investigation after heroin found in elementary school faculty bathroom
Following the discovery of heroin and needles in a faculty restroom at Benjamin Cosor Elementary School in Fallsburg, NY, seven faculty members are refusing to cooperate with administrators who want to identify the culprit with drug tests. Heroin was founnd on two separate occasions in December and February. After the most recent incident, investigators identified six teachers and a teachers’ aide who entered the restroom at around the time the baggie was identified. All suspects initially agreed to the tests, but at the advice of their union, they changed their position and hired attorneys. Another non-union contract employee identified as a suspect did provide a blood sample, but the results are not yet known. The incident sparked outrage among parents, particularly given that the suspects have not been suspended and continue to teach. The school has hired private security to monitor the school for suspicious activity and the police are continuing a full investigation.

Two upstate men arrested for sexually abusing dairy cows
Two men from Upstate New York were recently arrested after an investigation identified them as the culprits behind sexual misconduct with several cows in Herkimer. Michael H. Jones, 35 and Reid A. Fontaine, 31 were arrested as part of a scheme where Jones agreed to tape Fontaine having sex with the dairy cows. The two were identified on a surveillance camera set up by the cows’ owner, who wanted to know why they appeared nervous and would not produce milk. Both men were cited for sexual misconduct and released pending a court hearing.

FCC cancels plans to study newsroom decision-making
After facing a storm of controversey, the Federal Communications Commission has suspended its plan to examine the decision-making processes in television and news stations. The Critical Information Needs study would have included questions about how news stories are selected and what the decision-making process looks like for news coverage. However, critics considered FCC examination of news practices to be intrusive and threatening to press freedom. Outcry has not been limited to the general public. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai characterized the inclusion of questions on journalistic practices as a threat to press freedom and called the suspension of the study“an important victory for the First Amendment.” This is not the first CIN study. Performed every three years for Congress, it is typically designed to identify ways to assist smaller media outlets by eliminating obstacles to their entry into the industry.

Petition for investigation into Sochi figure-skating garners more than two million signatures
A controversial win for Russia in the women’s figure-skating category at the Sochi Olympics created an immediate backlash from critics, who argued the judging had been fixed and have already collected over 2 million signatures calling for an investigation. The figure-skating gold medal went to Russian Adelina Sotnikova, who received a score of 224.59 and won over South Korean Yuna Kim by 5.48 points, though many argued Kim had a superior performance. Fellow Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya’s win over American Ashley Wagner garnered similar negative attention considering Lipnitskaya fell several times while Wagner did not. Controversey also surrounded the judging, which is now anonymous and featured judges from predominantly Eastern Bloc nations. One of the judges, Yuri Balkov of Ukraine, was caught on camera attempting to rig scores at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, while another, Alla Shekhovtseva, is married to the head of the Russian figure-skating federation.

Revolution in Venezuela heats up as Ukraine attempts to cool down
The revolutions in Venezuela and Ukraine have hit major milestones in the past week, but are still at different levels of progress. In Venezuela, the movement against the Bolivaran government once headed by Hugo Chavez has expanded in appeal and scope from student protests in the city of San Cristobal to much of the country. Venezuela has struggled with economic ills, violent crime and food shortages for several years. The government of Chavez’ successor Nicolas Maduro has exacerbated anger by refusing reforms and instigating violent crackdowns on protestors. Though the option of dialogue was put forward by Madduro, protesters largely rejected it as posturing rather than a sincere effort to create change. Meanwhile in Ukraine, the unseating of former President Viktor Yanukovich and the subsequennt issuance of a warrant for his arrest has not yet settled the country which was torn by violence last week. Though Yanukovich called the move a “coup” and insisted he was still the legitimate presidnt, the Ukrainian Parliament appointed Oleksandr Turchinov as an interim speaker until elections can be held in May. Though Yanukovich is gone, Ukraine remains a divided country. Many residents of the central area of the country are skeptical of the pro-Western stance of revolutionaries, while others who helped to unseat the president wish to distance themselves from Russia, which supported Yanukovich.

New York Knick Raymond Felton arrested on weapons charges
New York Knick basketball player Raymond Felton faces criminal charges for possessing an unlicensed handgun in his Manhattan apartment. The gun, a FN 5.7x28MM known as a “cop-killer” gun due to its ability to pierce body armor, was delivered to police by Felton’s wife, with whom he is going through an acrimonious divorce. In addition to its unlicensed status, it was discovered to contain 18 rounds, a violation of the NY SAFE Act. Though the gun was reportedly purchased legally in South Carolina, it is illegal to possess in New York. The fact that it was delivered to police by a non-neutral party rather than being found in the apartment is likely to complicate the case and it is expected that Felton’s defense counsel will claim he did not know how it reached New York.

Groundbreaking comedian Harold Ramis dies at 69
Harold Ramis, the comedian who helped to craft comedy classics such ass “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters,” “Animal House,” and “Groundhog Day,” died of a vascular inflammatory disease at his Chicago area home on Monday. Ramis was known for a light-hearted but subversive sense of comedy with creative characters in outrageous situations. After his writing debut with “Animal House,” a tale of a college fraternity locked in a battle with a stuffy college dean, he rose to fame with a series of movies featuring other comedy masters such as John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray. In later life, Ramis dedicated himself more to directing and writing than acting, presiding over “Analyze This” with Billy Crystal and Robert DeNiro, as well as its sequel “Analyze That.” He is survived by his wife and three children.

Uganda adopts severe anti-gay law
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill into law on Monday which proposes harsh penalties for homosexual Ugandans and their supporters, a high-profile move sure to spark condemnation from global human rights activists. The bill will impose life sentences on homosexuals and seven year sentences on those who house or fail to report them to police. National or international human rights organizations are also subject to prison terns and face de-registration for offering support. A previous version of the bill sparked international condemnation for proposing the death penalty for those convicted of homosexual acts. The bill had been proposed three years ago, but was only able to reach the president last December.

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