A newly formed group of Rockland yeshivas has warned County Executive Ed Day that they believe his zeal for inspecting private schools violates the U.S. Constitution.
Members of what is being called the School Religious Freedom Coalition want a meeting with the state education commissioner to discuss a “reasonable” plan for carrying out fire and safety code inspections at local private schools.
Dennis Lynch, an attorney for the group, said organization members support the need for inspections and having safe schools for students but believe Day’s goal is to limit the growth of private schools.
They also feel the county executive’s language at a press conference last week was “inflammatory” and prejudicial, Lynch said.
He would not say which yeshivas or rabbis are members of the coalition, which sent a letter to Day on Friday outlining its complaints and raising the possibility of legal action.
The move came a day after Day announced the state had given the county permission to inspect 53 private schools, mostly in Ramapo and Spring Valley, for fire and building code compliance. Day said at the press conference that school officials could face steep fines for any problems, and even jail time if they refuse to allow the inspectors access to their properties.
Day said Wednesday that the inspections are continuing. He said there has only been one incident of a school denying some access to inspectors.
He said if inspectors are denied the access they need, the inspectors are told to inform the school administrator he or she is violating the law. The county will then seek a court order for entry and if that order is rebuffed, the administrator could be arrested.
“We will not be forcing in doors, though we can under the law,” Day said. “That would be counter-productive. We’re not going to be deterred and we’re moving forward.”
Day said the inspections were not limited to one type of private school, with 10 of the schools not considered yeshivas.
He called Lynch’s missive a “highly inaccurate letter that is clearly politically motivated by someone who is being paid by the entities that are not ensuring the fire safety codes (are followed) for our schools, specifically (in) the town of Ramapo.”
“The attempt to make this a religious issue is ridiculous,” Day said.
Day said he had never heard of the organization that sent the letter and hasn’t been able to find any information about it. Day said if the organization is legitimate the county will work with its members to achieve the county’s safety goals.
Day said his only agenda is following the law and ensuring safe buildings for students.
Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, defended the inspections, which he has pressed for during the past several years working with firefighters and other advocates.
“These schools have received several notices by the state Department of Education that the law requires fire inspections,” he said. “Instead of performing these vital inspections, the schools have decided to ignore the law and politicize common sense safety requirements. Unfortunately, this jeopardizes the safety of hundreds of students.”
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