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Parents Oppose Using Church and Synagogue for Public School Classes

A State Supreme Court justice took under advisement this weekend a petition by 25 parents opposing plans of the Rockland County school board to use a church and a synagogue for public school classes.

The parents, in a petition calling the plan “unconstitutional” and in violation of the church-state separation clause, asked that the board be banned from using St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and Temple Beth El for classes. Both are in Spring Valley.

Leo Pfeffer of New York, counsel for the American Jewish Congress, appeared for the parents before Justice John Dillon. He argued that sending children to buildings whose “atmosphere was religious” was in violation of the “sincere, honest religious feelings” of the petitioning parents.

David Greenberg, school board attorney, said the move was forced by a huge expansion of the school population for which the board is building two elementary schools and a new high school. Meanwhile, he said, classes must be held somewhere. Classrooms at the church and synagogue will hold 371 of the 800 additional school pupils and the rest will go to school at an abandoned Nike base, he added. He said the board had tried to find room in a factory and other places, and emphasized that the school district had “gone to extremes” to remove all religious symbols from the house of worship buildings used for classrooms.

Justice Dillon said he “could not help but wonder” what would happen to the children if the petition was accepted, adding “what is the school board to do” Mr. Pfeffer replied that “there are times when you must sacrifice some convenience for our constitutional principles. ” He suggested raising class totals from 20 to 35 and using trailers and prefabricated buildings for the children.

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