I-Team: Homes in NY Town Taken Over for Religious Schooling, Residents Say
Residents in the Rockland County town of Ramapo claim town officials are allowing single-family homes on small residential lots to be turned into religious schools with little or no public notice.
Suffern resident Annette Doerr said she has been battling the conversion of a home next door into an ultra-Orthodox school for several years. Doerr told the I-Team she believes there are more than 200 students in the four-bedroom house but has been unable to get specific information.
“It’s six days a week,” she said. “Whenever they’re on recess, we can’t be outside.”
“It’s too dangerous, it’s too dense,” she added. “The home was meant for a family.”
The property manager declined to tell the I-Team how many students attend the school.
Minna Greenbaum, another Suffern resident, said there are areas where almost every property on a block is a school or religious institution.
“The town turns a blind eye,” she said. “Everything is allowed.”
Residents said they are not opposed to schools if there is sufficient property to accommodate the students and buses safely.
Resident Peter Katz recently filed a lawsuit over a school that’s being developed on a nearby lot.
“A friend of mine owned this house, sold it to someone, and the very next thing, I discovered by accident it’s being converted to a school,” Katz said. “There was no public notice.”
Members of the Spring Valley Fire Department, which responds to emergency calls in the town of Ramapo, said they are especially concerned about modular trailers being moved onto residential lots as classrooms to accommodate students.
“We don’t even get the fire plans, and that’s the biggest thing,” said Captain Justin Schwartz. “It gets approved without us saying so. It’s a crime.”
The town of Ramapo passed a law limiting the use of “temporary” trailers to a maximum of two years. Democratic Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski said town officials have allowed the proliferation of “permanent” trailers to be used without proper enforcement.
He said he believes the New York Department of State should take over Ramapo’s building department.
“This is a willful, systemic ignoring of the law by those that are in charge, and when you have that, the State needs to step in,” he said.
Michael Klein, attorney for the town of Ramapo, told the I-Team that schools with permits are safe.
“The town of Ramapo will not issue a permission of occupancy permitting property to be used as a school unless it meets all fire and building codes,” he said.
“Whether people like the growing size of the community and the need to address the growing population, that’s a quality of life issue and people have different views of that,” he added.
Census figures for 2015 to 2016 showed there are 24,000 non-public school students in the East Ramapo school district and 8,500 public school students.