Spring Valley (Abeng News) – A multi-racial coalition of residents of the upstate NY community of Rockland County, have taken to the streets in rolling protests against what they see as discriminatory practices in the district’s educational system against Hispanic immigrants.
While some folks see the wave of documented and undocumented immigrants from Latin America to the community tied to questionable US trade policies with Latin America, the school Board leadership simplifies the problem to one of Hispanics seeking free lunches.
The residents of the school district, which has been characterized by media agencies as a veritable war zone, are carrying out a campaign of peaceful protests in response to superintendent Joel Klein’s August 19 announcement that the District intends to set up an alternative program to stream Hispanic immigrants away from the regents curricula.
The measure is supposedly to safeguard declining graduation rates that the superintendent alleges have been skewed by “illegal immigrants” who, he claims, come through the southern border and access the schools not for education but for free lunches, English lessons and “whatever else they can get”.
Activists have dubbed this a wanton mischaracterization of the Hispanic population and a de facto denial of the rights of a whole segment of the District’s inhabitants who are themselves hard-working taxpayers.
On Tuesday, September 16, 2014 the residents of the East Ramapo Central School District staged the second in a series of demonstrations at the ERCSD headquarters located at South Madison Avenue, Spring Valley, to focus attention on what they say is the continuing abuse they have suffered at the hands of the Haredi-dominated Board of Education (BOE) and its staff.
They maintained an orderly presence while shouting in English and Spanish, “Klein must go!” and “Education, not discrimination!”
“Our goal is to stop the program that the District has put forward for second class education for immigrant and Latino students and to call attention to the fact that they’re not providing the quality of education that is demanded by the state of New York,” said community activist Steve White, whose struggle against the school board has led to the filing of a lawsuit claiming civil rights violations. “And [we are here] to demand that all students get an equal education and a quality education,” declared White, editor of the newsletter and Web site www.poweroften.us.
The protracted battle between the factions, represented on the one hand by elected leaders of a separatist community and on the other by an integrated community of African-Americans, Euro-Americans and immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean, was the subject of a weekly public radio show called This American Life, produced by Chicago Public Media.
The show aired a one-hour-long segment on the conflict which it titled “A Not-so-simple Majority,” chronicling the decade-long struggle between a BOE run by a group of men of the Haredi sect of Orthodox Jews who advocate separatism from modernity and send their children to private schools, and a determined group of activists, representing a disfranchised group of largely immigrant folk who send their children to public schools.
These activists, drawn as they are from across lines of race, ethnicities and religious faith, are unified by their belief in the justice of their cause. Among them are Willie Trotman, president of the Spring Valley Branch of the NAACP, White and Angel Gualpa, community activist.
Klein’s comments have ripped the scab from old wounds caused by the implementation of free trade agreements throughout the Americas. Tomes have been written about the devastation wreaked upon the fragile economies of Latin America and the Caribbean and the hardships, social turmoil and dislocation which resulted from crippling treaty agreements codified under the rubric of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Dominican Republic – Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).
The impact was most visible in the form of the waves of refugees entering the USA from Latin American countries. Tens of thousands of these refugees who were scourged by the one-sided market liberalization stipulations of the FTAs found their way to New York state and to Rockland County.
Like the Jewish migrants who fled Europe, the Latin Americans came to seek a better life for themselves and especially for their children.
And as the immigrants from these countries sought to become part of American society and make the fabled American dream their own, they have fallen unwittingly into a cauldron of cheap labor, used by other communities, including their critics, for domestic (nanny service) and construction labor.
Some activists argue that Klein’s new initiative to stream the immigrants into “free lunch” and “’English proficiency” programs is nothing but a clever machination to keep them immigrants trapped in the cheap labor pool.
According to activist Angel Gualpa, the Hispanic community is determined to see the superintendent held accountable for his irresponsible comments.
“No matter how much they cancel the meetings, we have other ideas and they are going to have to look [at] us and face the consequences [of their outrageous conduct],”said Gualpa.
He spoke passionately about the dreams that people of the Hispanic community hold dear and about their determination to succeed in their endeavors, be they lofty or modest.
Regarding the cancellation of the BOE meeting, he said that the BOE, by that act, had given the organizers “more time to be more ready for the next Board meeting.”
Trotman, of the NAACP underscored the obligation imposed on the BOE by the law, which stipulates that all persons must be provided with secondary education up to the age of twenty one. He was insistent that that obligation should be honored to the letter.
“We want to ensure that each kid has an equal opportunity for an equal education,” said Trotman. He promised that he would return, as he has done numerous times in the past, to stand in solidarity with the community whose reputation has been savaged by the comments made by the superintendent.
According to the organizers, the next protest will be held on October 7, 2014 at the District headquarters. The detailed schedule will be made available via www.poweroften.us
About Aduku Addae
Aduku Addae writes on social, political and cultural matters from upstate New York.
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