“A federal judge today called an East Ramapo school board election for Feb. 2 using a ward system for the first time that would include three districts out of nine comprised mostly of minority voters.
The ward or single-member system would replace East Ramapo’s current at-large voting setup, which U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Seibel declared in May violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Spring Valley chapter of the NAACP challenged the at-large system, saying it led to school boards dominated by white, Orthodox Jewish men who for more than a decade have supported budgets that siphon money from the district’s public schools, where Blacks and Latinos are the majority of students.
The NAACP was represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union and Latham and Watkins, a private firm.
“After a long fight, the East Ramapo community is finally going to have a fair election for its school board that will give everybody in the community a fair shot at electing school board members to represent their interests,” the NYCLU’s Perry Grossman said.
“Black and Latinx members of the community have been disadvantaged by an unfair system for too long,” he said. “This is just one step toward leveling the playing field and making sure every student and family has a voice in ensuring that all children in East Ramapo receive a quality education.”
The district has appealed Seibel’s May ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. A decision is pending.
In Wednesday’s ruling, Seibel said only eligible voters in a single ward will be allowed to vote for candidates in that ward. In an at-large system, all of the district’s eligible voters get to vote for candidates for open seats.
The new setup creates three wards whose geographic boundaries were drawn to create minority-majority districts.
The first includes the hamlet of Hillcrest and is bordered by Sanatorium Road to the north and Maple Avenue to the south. The second runs from Eckerson Road East to the north down to Interstate 87. And the third runs through Spring Valley along Route 59 and surrounding areas.
Seats for districts 1 and 2 are currently held by two of the board’s three Black women – Ashley Leveille and Sabrina Charles-Pierre.
All nine seats on the board will be up for election during the February special election. The election will substitute for May elections.
A random selection will determine which of the three minority seats will be for one- , two- or three-year terms. A similar method will determine the terms of the other six seats.
The vote will be conducted remotely, and absentee ballots will be mailed by the district to qualified voters.
In her May ruling, Seibel said the district’s Black and Latino voters were denied equal access to the electoral process in East Ramapo.
“For too long, black and Latino voters in the District have been frustrated in that most fundamental and precious endeavor,” Seibel wrote. “They, like their white neighbors, are entitled to have their voices heard.”
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