Religious Schools are Operating in Unsafe Conditions, Fire Captain tells Board


Yeshiva 1Among the numerous issues plaguing the East Ramapo school district is the plethora of private religious schools receiving state and federal money that are out of compliance with fire safety code requirements, a fire official told the public this week at the East Ramapo School Board meeting.

Spring Valley Fire Department captain and Rockland Illegal Housing Task Force member Justin Schwartz warned the board Tuesday night that students and firefighters are in dangerous risk.

Yeshiva 2The task force seeks to rectify overcrowded and illegal housing and schools housed in homes without fire prevention and safety equipment.

“There was a fatal fire this morning,” Schwartz, also a rabbi, said, referencing the tragedy at 3 Waldron Ave. in Nyack that killed a 61-year-old woman. The building, zoned as a single-family residence, housed four apartments and 14 people illegally and without working smoke detectors. It caused Schwartz to fear such a tragedy could happen in East Ramapo.

Fire Capt. Justin Schwartz addressing the board/Photo credit Antonio Luciano
Fire Capt. Justin Schwartz addressing the board/Photo credit Antonio Luciano

Schwartz chastised the board for nonpublic school students who are crammed into “illegal and sometimes unsafe non-certified education trailers alleged to be temporary (sometimes up to three years),” he said. “Single family homes and apartments are also used, and are rife with health, safety and sanitary code violations.”

Schwartz’s message riled up many in the crowd, including activist Eric Grossfeld.

“How much more evidence does New York State need before they finally remove this board from office?” advocacy group Get Up, Stand Up: East Ramapo Eric Grossfeld commented. “They willfully disregard both state and federal law – and clearly lack a moral compass.”

Yeshiva 5Board president Yehuda Weissmandl was noticeably absent and missed when Schwartz placed a large cardboard display showing Yeshiva schools that are trailers and pictures of an East Ramapo school bus parked on the sidewalk during business hours.

Superintendent Joel Klein, who resigned at the previous week’s board meeting, sat stoic as Schwartz and others spoke.

A few days into the New Year (January 5), Assemblyman Kenneth P. Zebrowski wrote to New York Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales
calling for a formal investigation into building and code enforcement
violations in the county, a request initiated in November 2013.

State monitor Dennis Walcott listening to Capt. Schwartz/Photo credit Antonio Luciano
State monitor Dennis Walcott listening to Capt. Schwartz/Photo credit Antonio Luciano

Six months later (July 7) Zebrowski asked NYS Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia about safety in nonpublic school buildings throughout Rockland County with an attached list of 60 private schools.

Elia responded in an August 10 letter to Perales “requesting that the Department of State conduct detailed fire safety and building code inspections of all nonpublic schools in Rockland County with priority
given to the attached list of nonpublic schools which have not filed fire safety reports with the State Education Department.”

Attached was the list of schools that to date, Schwartz said Tuesday,
were not inspected.

Earlier this year (January 28) NYS Division of Building Standards and Codes Director Ronald E. Piester, AIA, sent letters to Town of Ramapo Supervisor Christopher P. St. Lawrence and to Spring Valley Mayor Demeza Delhomme “regarding specific and general deficiencies to the State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code (Uniform Code).”

More recently (October 6) Piester sent Delhomme a copy of an order dated October 6, 2015, issued by Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales to the Village of Spring Valley, compelling the village to comply and setting specific deadlines.

Three weeks ago the Rockland County Times broke a story about leaky roofs and unsafe schools in the East Ramapo public schools despite the state education department’s assurance to the contrary. This reporter sent state monitor Dennis Walcott pictures of district school buildings showing containers catching water from leaking roofs, a hanging ceiling in a hallway, a photo of mold on the ceiling.

Walcott was asked about title money going to teshivas, and about extending contracts to Community Education Center/Yeshiva of Rockland County (YARC) without taxpayer knowledge or comments; however, the board voted to approve money for CEC Tuesday night (only Pierre Germain voted no).

Weissmandl issued this statement:

“At last night’s school board meeting, information was presented regarding potential problems with fire safety precautions at some 60 private schools in our East Ramapo School community.

This matter is not something we have the authority to address directly. In fact, it is not within our public school jurisdiction.

Nevertheless, we take the matter very seriously. We will convey the specific concerns expressed at the meeting to appropriate local authorities, namely code enforcement officials.

We will consult state officials to see whether there is any other action we should take to address this important private school matter.

We will also use this as an opportunity to review fire safety precautions in the public schools. We are confident that we are in compliance with appropriate codes, but we will conduct a thorough review to ensure that this is the case.”

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