Rockland inspectors will attempt to enter 16 of more than 50 schools targeted for state mandated fire and safety inspections on Monday, but the response by the schools is still unknown
“As Rockland officials prepare to restart private school inspections Monday, each side continues to disagree on whether the inspections are constitutionally legal.
Dennis Lynch, the attorney for the a group of yeshivas resisting the inspections, maintains his position that Rockland cannot conduct the inspections without permission.
Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, however, wrote state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia encouraging her to stand firm in the position that she legally deputized the county to conduct the inspections.”
What follows is the full text of that letter:
Kenneth P. Zebrowski
Assemblyman 96th District
June 3, 2016
Commissioner MaryEllen Elia
NYS Department of Education
Dear Commissioner Elia:
I am writing with regard to correspondence Attorney Dennis Lynch sent to your office regarding the private school inspections.
Let me first thank you, and your office, for responding to the troubling lack of inspections of certain Rockland County private schools.
I feel compelled to remind your office of the steps you have taken since we first started meeting about this matter. The law absolutely requires that all private schools conduct an annual fire safety inspection and file it with the State Education Department. As a result of a fire, several years ago, we began to investigate and revealed that over 60 private schools in Rockland had not been inspected. Worse, a large percentage of these 60+ schools had not been inspected in the past three years, if ever. Fire safety inspections are not a superfluous government requirement. They are essential to assuring that the structures children learn in every day are safe and appropriate.
Subsequent to identifying the lack of inspections, your office sent out a notice, statewide, to ensure that every private school was aware of this requirement. As a result of this notice numerous schools complied with the law. Unfortunately, some schools continued to ignore your notice. Your office then sent out a second notice, again clearly stating the inspection requirement, and warning the schools that action would be taken if they ignored the law. Unfortunately, some schools continued to ignore this directive. Furthermore, your office found specific evidence that an inspector signed off without noting any issues on schools with egregious violations.
At this point, your office took the necessary steps to protect the safety of Rockland County students. The County Fire Coordinator is specifically authorized by State Education Law to conduct these inspections [Education Law Section 807-a (3)(a)(5)], and your office directed him to do so.
The clear and unequivocal fact here is that certain private schools in Rockland County have ignored your notices and the law. These schools are putting the safety of children at risk and the State of New York is taking appropriate action.
Accusations by Mr. Lynch seek to create a lot of noise in order to obscure that fact that his clients have refused to follow a clear safety inspection law. His unfounded accusations against the County Executive are not only without evidence, but are irrelevant. The County Executive is the chief executive of the County, and the County Fire Coordinator works for him. The press that covers Rockland County has seen some of the dangerous conditions in these schools over many years of reporting. They are interested in the fact that these schools continue to ignore the law. The fact that the County Executive held a press conference, in order to answer their consistent questions, is neither inappropriate nor unprecedented. The County Executive stated that children could be taken out in body bags if a fire were to transpire in a dangerous, uninspected school. While this statement may be disturbing and uncomfortable, and may not be a way you or I would depict the situation, it is unfortunately true. Furthermore, the County Executive suggesting that administrators could face penalties for refusal is hardly an outrageous statement. Penalties of course are decided by a Judge or an appropriate regulatory agency.
Mr. Lynch and his clients could have avoided this entire scenario by following the law and facilitating an inspection.
I understand that they have requested a meeting with your office. I am unsure what a meeting would produce. There should be no room for negotiation over the clear law that requires inspections.
I request that your office continue to protect the safety of the students in Rockland County and insist that the County Fire Coordinator conduct fire safety inspections of private schools that are violating the law.
For those schools that refuse to be inspected, I believe your office must look into withholding taxpayer funds and preventing these schools from operating. If our safety laws are to be respected, it is imperative that the law be enforced.
Kenneth P. Zebrowski
Member of the Assembly
Read the complete Journal News story here.