Journal News Community View: East Ramapo shuns immigrant students

September 13, 2014

East Ramapo's superintendent dares to assert that "illegal" students "from Central and South America" don't want the same education as everyone else. Yet, students register for school with dreams and rights.

Re "Immigrants decry East Ramapo chief's dropout comments," Sept. 3 article:

East Ramapo is a very diverse school district. People from all over the world live here, they share a dream: a better life for their children. So when the superintendent of schools made remarks singling out Spanish speaking students, many in our Latino community and beyond felt offended and turned up to the next board meeting to make their opinion known to the board and the superintendent.

So many people turned out that they could not fit in the meeting room! Many had to stand outside in the hallway. They brought signs and stories and children.

They came because they know what the superintendent had said was wrong. They know that the young people who go to register for school, of whatever age, want to have all the opportunities that a public education system has to offer. A chance to play in the band, to be on the team, to learn history, and science, to do experiments in the lab or design graphics in the art department.

The East Ramapo school board does not want to recognize that immigrants are dreamers. They have cut programs that Latino children depend on to fulfill their dreams, while at the same time spending wildly on lawyers to defend themselves and their discriminatory policies from the New York State Education Department, the New York Attorney General, the parents and the taxpayers. Superintendent Joel Klein's comments address immigrant youth who come to his district as laborers, not dreamers. His summary dismissal of the dreams of students who are "from Central and South America," "illegal," and "15 or over" as if somehow they show up to register for school but don't really want the same education as everyone else is the definition of racism.

There are many young people who, sadly, don't register for school. Those who do register are by definition the ones who want an education. Instead of trying to limit these young people who are inspired to keep trying, the district should be reaching out to the community to promote the benefits of education to those who are not coming to apply. A petition has been started at poweroften.us asking the school board to rescind plans to separate these students and restore programs designed to help English language learners.

Steven White

The writer, a Spring Valley resident, is a leader of Power of Ten, a group that organized to advocate for the rights of the children who attend the public schools in East Ramapo.