MONSEY— Tired of hounding district policymakers to secure school borders against trespassers, East Ramapo parents took matters into their own hands Tuesday.
About eight parents patrolled the grounds of Grandview Elementary for two hours, informing dozens of walkers who were taking a shortcut through the property that they were trespassing and asking them to find another route. A district security officer joined them.
“We’re concerned that we don’t know who’s walking through … it’s a security issue,” said district critic Peggy Hatton, shielded under an umbrella as rain pelted the grounds around noon.
Most of the men and a few women cutting across the school’s expansive back lawn were Orthodox or Hasidic Jews observing the festival of Sukkot, a time when they typically do not drive.
Most quietly ignored the parents’ requests and continued walking.
“Enforce it equally,” one man called out as he headed toward the Wesley Hills neighborhood behind the school. Another man approached parent Keith Meyers and called him an anti-Semite, which led to an exchange of angry words.
“This is what my taxes are paying for,” another man grumbled, as parent and district critic Tony Luciano trained his video camera on the scene.
One woman refused to leave the grounds and got into a shouting match with parents.
Police were notified but no arrests were made, Ramapo Sgt. Tom Dolan said.
The push to keep strangers off school grounds during school hours — in a district whose large Orthodox and Hasidic population walks many places — is nothing new.
At least 200 parents have cited concerns about trespassing and alleged other misdeeds in a class-action lawsuit filed against school board members and district officials this summer.
Sexual predators are another concern, parents said. Nearly 20 registered sex offenders live within two miles of East Ramapo’s public schools, records show.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the safety of our children,” said Cassandra Edwards, a mother of two middle school students who attended Grandview.
Despite parents’ demands, district officials have tacitly condoned the presence of strangers on school grounds during school hours, alternately denying trespassing is a problem and worrying they’ll appear anti-Semitic if they take action. Police have said they can’t do much unless “No Trespassing” signs are posted on the property.
Except for one new sign that appeared at Grandview this fall, Principal Patricia Smith said, the district hasn’t responded to hers and parents’ requests to post signs at the schools.
The parents planned Tuesday’s patrol after Edwards visited Grandview on Monday with donations of book bags filled with supplies and witnessed up to 100 people coursing through the back field while students were playing outside at recess, she and Smith said. An indignant Edwards jumped in to help dismiss the crowd.
Due to budget cuts in June, Edwards said, “They don’t have security. They don’t have social workers. They don’t have assistant principals” who could patrol the grounds during recess. It’s up to parents to do it, she said.
Those walking across the grounds have argued they have permission, either from the school board or from their rabbis, Smith and parents said. Smith said she didn’t call police Monday because district security officers arrived and she felt the situation was under control. If it continues to be a problem, she said, she’ll call the police as she’s been directed.
East Ramapo has 40 security guards who are stationed at the high schools and middle schools and can be called to elementary schools as needed, like during Monday’s incident, security director Tom Carton said Tuesday. Guards will be dispatched to all the schools during recess for this week’s holiday, he said, when the number of people cutting through tends to spike.
He said trespassing has been “ongoing for the last several years” but that only recently has a committee of administrators been formed to address it. The district plans to meet with parents, principals, teachers and the NAACP — whose members also have complained — to hear their input on a new “No Trespassing” sign policy by the end of the month, Carton said.
It’s a change of course for a school district whose leaders have largely dismissed the issue in recent months. During an interview in July, Superintendent Joel Klein told The Journal News/LoHud.com, “Except for some people making a big issue of it, (trespassing) isn’t an issue. If you have a sex offender looking to do harm, a ‘No Trespassing’ sign will not stop him.”
Klein couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
Source: The Journal News