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Coalition Takes Issue With Rockland's Fire Inspections At Private Schools

An attorney representing a newly-formed coalition of yeshivas has complained to the New York state Education Department about the Rockland County Executive’s approach to fire safety inspections at private schools. The county executive makes no apologies, saying safety is his number one concern. 

Attorney Dennis Lynch sent a letter May 27th to state Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, saying he represents the School Religious Freedom Coalition. Lynch writes that the letter be considered a complaint. The letter alleges that Rockland County Executive Ed Day is serving his own political agenda and spewed inflammatory and threatening remarks at a press conference the day before on the announcement of state-directed county inspections of private schools. The letter also calls the county inspections unconstitutional. A state Education Department spokeswoman says Lynch’s letter is being reviewed.

The letter says that the new group fully supports the state education department’s intent in its May 26th letter to the county executive that all “inspections be conducted with the sole purpose of ensuring the health and safety of students,” but contends Day has exhibited a politically opportunistic response to the school safety issue. Lynch did not return calls seeking comment. In a Journal News article, Lynch would not say which yeshivas or rabbis are members of the new coalition. Here’s Day:

“What we’re looking for, at the end of the day, is our children in Rockland County have a safe place to learn,” says Day. “That’s the entire story.”

Day notes it was the state Education Department that directed the county to perform fire inspections at 49 private schools after such an order was requested. He says inspections are under way and will be completed by the end of June.

“And there’s this consistent ignoring of the fire codes by a number of private schools. And, of the 49 private schools that were cited, 26 never filed fire code reports,” Day says. “So we’ve been asking something, this has been an issue going on for years now and we’re moving forward methodically. And we’re inspecting schools of all religious persuasions.”

The majority of these schools are in Ramapo and Spring Valley. In March, the state Education Department sent letters to the Ramapo Town Supervisor and the fire inspector at the time, to inform them of severe fire code violations found by state inspectors at four private schools, schools that were given clean inspections reports from the town fire inspector. Lynch also serves as assistant attorney for Ramapo. As for Lynch’s letter, which was cc’ed to Day, the county executive replies:

“But you know something, if someone has a concern about what we’re doing, they don’t need to hire an attorney who’s working for the Town of Ramapo. I think that compromises him immensely. If these folks want to reach out to us directly, we’re more than willing to speak to them,” says Day. “They’re calling this unconstitutional. They’re saying they want to have some sort of plan where they’ll allow us into the schools when it’s okay with them. It doesn’t work that way. Fire inspections take place when a fire inspector shows up. That’s the way it works. And, again, we’re looking to apply the law equally to all, no more and no less.”

Day says among the 49 private schools to be inspected are 23 the state asked the county to re-inspect after they were inspected by the Ramapo fire inspector.

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