65 Rockland Non-public Schools Did Not File Fire Inspection Certificates in 2013--88% are in Ramapo

April 6, 2013 New York State law requires that anyone who wants to operate a school, public or private, must provide guarantees for the safe operation to protect the children attending. A crucial safety requirement demands that the schools must submit proof of fire inspections each year. The inspection must be made before December 1st, and the Fire Inspection Certificate documenting that inspection has to be filed with the New York State Board of Education no later than December 16. Preserve Ramapo was able to acquire a state report that reveals a disturbing number of non-public schools that did not bother to comply with the law in 2013. Of the 65 schools that were in violation of this law, most of them (57 out of 65--87.7%) are in the Town of Ramapo. These numbers, like so many others, reinforce the sad reality of an increasing lawlessness in the town.

The graph below shows the total uninspected schools and their location in the County.


The table below shows where the schools are that have not filed fire inspection certificates with the State Education Department for 2013.

N.Y. Education Law § 807-a: NY Code-Section 807-A: Fire Inspections

The law requiring these annual fire inspections is very clear. Every year, all schools in the State are required to have a fire inspection of their premises and buildings, and this must be done before December 1. "The classrooms, dorms, labs, physical-ed and dining and recreational facilities must be inspected for fire hazards which might endanger the lives of students, teachers, and employees therein."

The report of the inspection must be filed by the school authorities no later than the 16th day of December.

The inspectors must be qualified and the schools can request inspections by the fire department of the town or village, by the county fire coordinator, or by a fire corporation.

Whoever does the inspection must "file the report thereof with the school authorities no later than the first day of December."

The last important date for this inspection/certification involves public notice. "Within 20 days after the filing of the report with the school authorities, the school authorities shall cause public notice of the filing of such report to be given." The notice can take several forms from mailing the certificate to the local fire chief, to publishing in the official newspaper, or posting it in 10 conspicuous places in the district. The school district is also to be notified of the public notice.

If there are violations of fire or safety codes discovered during an inspection a second mandatory set of dates kicks in to guarantee the remediation of these risks. "If the report shows any alleged deficiencies, the school authorities shall give at least five days notice by mail to the chief of the fire department or fire company responsible for fire protection of the school building of the date and place of a meeting of the trustees, board of education, or corresponding officers by whatever name known, to be held within 30 days following the publication or posting required by this section, and shall at such meeting confer with the fire chief concerning the alleged deficiencies appearing on the inspection report and the measures proposed to be taken by the school authorities to correct such deficiencies." After the corrections, a second re-inspection must be scheduled.

The date on the table above shows no response from these schools as of January 10, 2014. They had until the end of November 2013 to get the inspections done, so when this document was published it was almost a month-and-a-half beyond the legal deadline. The districts’ educational boards are mentioned as one of those agencies responsible for following up on these violations, but like so many New York State regulations of this kind, there are no clearly prescribed penalties or fines, and no clear path to expedite the enforcement of the regulation. Where that leaves the kids is out on the ledge.

The law does state that any school that is supposed to be annually inspected "may be inspected for fire prevention and fire protection purposes at any reasonable time," and "In no event shall the school authorities of any public or private school required to be inspected refuse access at any reasonable time to any person [qualified to do the inspections] who appears for the purpose of conducting an inspection for fire protection purposes; provided, however, that the administrator . . . of the school shall be given the opportunity to be present during the inspection." So where are the inspectors?

Preserve Ramapo has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for a current update on this list of 65 violators to track how many of these schools remain in violation of the law at this point, now four months past the date required for these inspections and more than three-quarters through the current school year. We will publish the results when the State Board of Ed gets back to us.

Michael Castelluccio
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