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East Ramapo threatens to sue state over special-ed placements

East Ramapo School Board members, from left, Daniel

East Ramapo School Board members, from left, Daniel Schwartz, Yehuda Weissmandl, and Eliyahu Solomon attend a board meeting in Spring Valley. (Oct. 23, 2012) Credit: Faye Murman

East Ramapo School District officials threatened legal action Monday against a second state agency, this time over criticism of its special-education placements.

East Ramapo officials are under scrutiny by at least two state agencies and defendants in a parent-driven lawsuit alleging that East Ramap School Board members are inappropriately directing public money to private school education, including placing Orthodox Jewish students into special-education programs run by yeshivas.

The district is also broke -- with budget deficits for two consecutive years -- and answered increasingly pressing state Education Department demands about its funds Wednesday.

On Dec. 19, the state sent East Ramapo officials a third notice saying officials were continuing to flout laws dictating the placement of special-education students.

In a firmly worded, 11-page response Monday, attorney David Butler wrote that the state's argument is dead wrong and that the state has "misapplied and misinterpreted" laws.

Butler wrote that officials would prefer to work out the issues rather than "resort to adversary proceedings" but may have no choice but "file a protective Article 78 appeal" if the state's December letter was a final action.

In July 2012, the district filed suit against state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is investigating claims of fraudulent appraisals in sales of two schools by the district.

In that suit, the district requested a court order allowing it to retain the attorneys it consulted with on the real estate transactions. In a July 12 letter to the two lawyers, the state attorney general told them that their representation in the investigation is a conflict of interest because they will be interviewed as witnesses in the case.

The attorney general has moved for dismissal of the case.

The state Education Department did not return a request for comment on Monday's letter. School Board president Daniel Schwartz declined to comment on the lawsuit. Schneiderman's office did not respond to a request for comment.

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