SRFC Requests Meeting with NYDE Commissioner

Last week, New York State Department of Education Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia received a letter from attorney Dennis Lynch who is representing the School Religious Freedom Coalition (SRFC). The coalition is defined as “an association of schools in Rockland County equally concerned about religious civil rights and safety of all children in our schools.” While the letter does not state who the actual members of the coalition are it does say they are concerned about the tone of County Executive Ed Day’s public response in getting 53 schools inspected for fire safety and building compliance. They believe his actions may violate the U.S. Constitution. Lynch wrote that the coalition found Day’s language at a recent press conference to be “inflammatory” and they believe Day’s goal is to limit the growth of private schools. At the press conference, Day stated that if they experienced any problems from school officials they could receive high fines and even jail time. Lynch wrote, “You don’t hold a press conference and threaten people with jail – and they have no right to throw people in jail. Those types of draconian tactics violate freedom of religion and (are) not geared to safety regarding children.” The coalition is seeking a meeting with the commissioner. They interpret the commissioner’s letter as permission authorizing the county to formulate a plan to inspect schools with the cooperation of school administrators. Lynch made it clear they would not hesitate to take the county to court if an agreement concerning an orderly plan can’t be reached. Day said he had never heard of the coalition and if they were legitimate the county would work with them. He said his only agenda is following the law and ensuring safe buildings for students. Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, who was at the press conference with Day, defended the inspections. Zebrowski has worked hard for several years with firefighters and other advocates on this issue. He stated, “Instead of performing these vital inspections, the schools have decided to ignore the law and politicize common sense safety requirements.” He said, “It’s quite simple, should or should not kids be in structures that are inspected as being safe? It’s baffling that kids are going to school today in structures that have not been inspected. And when there’s a fire, because there will be one at some point, there will be a lot of blame to go around. So why wouldn’t we prevent that now?”

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