“A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a lower court decision declaring East Ramapo’s method for electing its school board violated the Voting Rights Act.
The lower court decision handed a victory to the NAACP in its decade-long battle to wrest board control away from a white, Orthodox Jewish voting bloc.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the East Ramapo school district’s claim that policy preferences like lower taxes – not race – had led to school boards dominated by Orthodox Jewish candidates.
They noted the nine-member board has pursued policies contrary to the interests of the the district’s 11,000 public-school students, nearly all of whom are Black or Latino.
The board closed two public schools despite opposition from the minority community, made a “sweetheart deal” to sell a closed school to a yeshiva at a deep discount and increased funding to bus some 30,000 white students to private yeshivas even as it was cutting public school funding, the panel noted.
“Those policies favorable to the private-school community come at the cost of the public school community,” the panel said in a decision written by Judge Rosemary Pooler.
The judges said testimony at last year’s trial before U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Seibel in White Plains showed the board to be “chronically unresponsive to public-school concerns.”
“It defies reality to say that those who vote for private- school-friendly policies would be ignorant that the brunt of these policies is borne by minority children,” the judges added.
The decision comes less than a month before Feb. 2 elections for all nine seats on the board.
“Today’s ruling reaffirms what’s been clear all along: The white private school community hijacked East Ramapo’s school board and its elections,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the NYCLU. “The board used Jim Crow tactics to violate the voting rights of Black and Latino residents and wreak havoc on the education and futures of a generation of public school students.”
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