A federal judge sided with black and Latino voters in East Ramapo Tuesday, saying the method that allowed Orthodox Jewish members to dominate the area’s school board violated the Voting Rights Act.
U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Seibel said the East Ramapo Central School District will be banned from using the at-large voting method to elect school board members in elections scheduled for June 9, Lohud.com reported. Instead, the district has 30 days to come up with a ward-based plan for electing board members.
The goal “is to ensure that every voter has equal access to the electoral process,” the judge wrote. “For too long, black and Latino voters in the District have been frustrated in that most fundamental and precious endeavor. They, like their white neighbors, are entitled to have their voices heard.”
The ruling was a victory for the Spring Valley chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which sued the district in 2017, and a setback for the nine-person school board whose members are mostly Orthodox Jewish men.
Lawyers for the district, who did not immediately comment on the ruling, argued that race had nothing to do with the success of Orthodox candidates. They attributed the results to turnout by voters who shared their vision for low property taxes and generous public services for private school students. Nearly all of the Jewish students in the Rockland County towns served by the district attend yeshivas; black and Hispanic families, whose children attend public schools, said budget cutbacks had crippled the school system.
“This is not to say that the white bloc voters harbor conscious racial animus,” Judge Seibel wrote of her ruling. “But if we assume that the white ‘private school community’ votes as it does to reduce taxes, it would deny reality to pretend that its members were unaware that the students to be negatively affected by their votes are overwhelmingly children of color.”