A nonprofit law firm said Monday that at least 170 parents and community members in the East Ramapo School District have signed on as plaintiffs in a lawsuit accusing board members and the schools superintendent of “blatant misuse of public funds.”
The lawsuit will name 13 defendants, including Orthodox Jewish school board members, the board attorney and the school superintendent, claiming they schemed to siphon public money to pay for private religious school expenses, according to a draft of the suit provided by Advocates for Justice Monday evening.
The suit is drafted as a civil rights class action, alleging that the defendants violated the state and federal constitutional rights of the plaintiffs by intentionally segregating white students into private schools, while cutting funds to the primarily black and Hispanic student population of the public schools.
“Plaintiffs allege that the defendants, who, in various combinations, have made up a majority of the Board of the East Ramapo Central School District, have engaged in numerous schemes to siphon off public money to support private religious institutions in various yeshivas, forcing a large cut in instructional programming in the public schools,” the draft of the claim says.
The claim uses state agency reviews of the district as a foundation to claim that board members intentionally disregarded state law. Among the accusations are these:
• Unwarranted placement of special education students in private programs, potentially costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year.
• Paying two community centers with close ties to the Yeshiva Association of Rockland County $500,000 in federal Title I funds for education services that appear to promote Orthodox Judaism, in addition paying Rabbi Jacob Horowitz $10 million in a non-competitive contract to run the programs.
• Approving the purchase of religious textbooks with district money.
• Approving the sale of two buildings using fraudulent appraisals to offer a discount to religious schools.
• Hiring an attorney for twice the expense of previous representation to advise board members on how to funnel money into religious schools.
The plaintiffs request restitution for funds lost by the district, educational opportunities lost and punitive damages of $10 million, plus attorney’s fees and costs.
Advocates for Justice lead attorney Arthur Schwartz said the suit will be filed Tuesday morning in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Superintendent Joel Klein could not be reached for comment. East Ramapo School Board President Daniel Schwartz declined to comment on pending litigation. Rabbi Jacob Horowitz and school board attorney Albert D’Agostino did not immediately return requests for comment.