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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pamela Greenbaum Pulls Out of School Board Race

The Jewish Star reports:
Lawrence school board President Asher Mansdorf and Trustee Pamela Greenbaum both have decided to not run for re-election.

Dr. Mansdorf said it had been "interesting," running the District 15 board since voters elected a majority of Orthodox, private school parents and had given him the opportunity to meet "some truly incredible people who I never would have had a
chance to meet."

Mansdorf plans to spend more time now running his Central Avenue dental practice. He was blunt and to the point about his decision: "I'm not running."
Greenbaum, one of two board members representing the public school minority, said, "It's really, really a hard decision to make," and seemed to leave the door slightly open to the possibility of changing her mind. "As of this moment in time the decision is no," she said.

Reached by phone one recent morning, Mansdorf revealed that he'd received six phone calls already that day urging him to reconsider.

Both trustees have endured a great deal of criticism, sometimes from each other. It often got personal. A number of months ago Mansdorf even received a threat against his and family's lives.

Most recently, Greenbaum was criticized. even by some of her own supporters, after she filed a discovery motion against Google for the purpose of unmasking the popular local blogger known as Orthomom. As an elected official, Greenbaum is likely to find it nearly impossible to convince a court that she was defamed by anonymous postings and comments on the blog which were critical, sometimes strongly so, of her policy positions.

Nonetheless, Greenbaum said her decision to not run for re-election would have no bearing on the case, which she insisted was a personal matter, not related to her
duties as a board member.

"It has nothing to do with the board or me being a candidate or a board member. It's a totally separate part of my life," she said. "Orthomom has attacked me on my board policies and board issues for years and I have never said anything. When you personally attack somebody and it affects different areas of their life, I feel that - I felt compelled to do something, to stick up for myself. It has to do with my rights."
Riiiight. Her rights. Her "rights" to what? Her "rights" not be called out and criticized on her publicly stated positions as an elected official? Oh, yeah. An elected official doesn't actually have a right to hide from criticism of their positions, a little fact that Ms. Greenbaum apparently was not informed of by her brilliant advisers on this matter. Her rights? Maybe she's mixing up what she erroneously considers to be an infringement on her rights with what is actually an infringement on my First Amendment rights. Because let's be very clear here. It is actually my rights which have been interfered with of late - and by Ms. Greenbaum herself, no less.

And this line is particularly amusing: "Orthomom has attacked me on my board policies and board issues for years and I have never said anything. When you personally attack somebody and it affects different areas of their life, I feel that - I felt compelled to do something, to stick up for myself." Ms. Greenbaum still seems to be ignoring the very real and salient fact that I have never done anything more that attack her board policies. I don't know who she means when she uses the word "you", but it sure as heck isn't me who attacked her personally. I wish she would just have accepted that basic and very relevant fact and saved herself time (and presumably money) on this absurd claim she is chasing.

My opinion on her choice not to run? I truly think that despite her protestations, she made her decision to drop out because she lost the support of her constituency when she filed the frivolous proceeding in a misguided attempt to silence me and my commenters. I have received comments on this blog making it clear that many in the public school community do not support her suit, and feel that it served only as an unwelcome distraction from real, far more pressing issues that affect the children of this community. Pity.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

NYT on Monsey Matza Factory Bus

School District 15 Board Meeting Report

I unfortunately was too busy with Pesach preparations to attend, but these are excerpts from a report I received by e-mail:
Proposed Budget

Last night's school board meeting began with an elaborate (though sorely unconvincing) presentation by Dr. Fitzsimons of his proposed budget for the '07-'08 school year. Notwithstanding the annual $6 million to $9 million surpluses generated by District and the dwindling enrollment in the public schools, the Superintendent's proposed budget was $96.4 million, which would represent a 5% budget increase and an 8% levy increase over last year's budget. Fitzsimons insisted that this significant budget increase is absolutely necessary to cover increased costs including salaries for the 14 new full-time teachers and administrators that he would like to hire. (He did not clarify why these personnel additions are necessitated by dwindling enrollment.)

Murray Forman suggested that Dr. Fitzsimons go back to the drawing board with the proposed budget and come back to the board with a budget that represent a 0% increase over last year's budget. Mansdorf, Forman, Sussman, Kaufman and Hatten insisted that they would not support Dr. Fitzsimons' proposed increase or anything close to it, and that allowing any increase to be placed on the ballot would only lead the District into yet another year of contingency. Murray Forman noted that the proposed budget could not be an accurate characterization of the District's expenditures since the District has been left with surpluses of $6 million to $9 million in each of the last few years. Fitzsimons, Kopilow and Greenbaum railed against the majority of the board and insisted that even the proposed 5% increase would provide the District with a skeleton budget and that any suggestion of presenting a 0% increase budget is "irresponsible," despite the expectation that the current school year's budget will generate a $6 million surplus. At the insistence of the board majority, it was decided that the proposed budget would be revisited objectively by the school board's outside auditor or accountant so that a budget could be presented that the board and the voters would approve.

Pre-K Busing

The board introduced a referendum prepared by the board's attorneys, to be presented to voters for their approval on May 15th. Fitzsimons, Kopilow, Greenbaum and a few rowdy members of the audience suggested that the board shouldn't approve the referendum for a litany of reasons. They publicly questioned the owner of Independent Bus Company in an effort to find flaws in the board's proposition, and to try to illustrate that the District could not sufficiently establish the cost of pre-k busing (which the board estimated at $500k), and that providing pre-k busing for private school kids would be too expensive for the District. Greenbaum suggested that there shouldn't be any pre-k busing for private school children unless the board ties this referendum to a guarantee that public school children would continue to receive the free pre-k program (with transportation) that they currently receive. Kopilow suggested that the pre-k busing referendum should include a measure requiring that all of the $30 million proceeds from the sale of the #1 school property be spent on capital improvements to the other buildings. Despite the protests from Fitzsimons, Kopilow and Greenbaum, the board voted (5-2) for the pre-k busing referendum to be presented to voters on May 15th. The referendum will provide for free transportation for all District 15 private school children (who will be 4 years old on December 1, 2007) who are in "full day" preschool programs that contain in the aggregate at least 25 children in their 4 and 5 year old programs. This pre-k program will only be implemented by the District if it is approved by a majority of voters on May 15th.

Capital Improvements

Uri Kaufman presented the conclusions of a group of architects and engineers who reviewed the capital improvements needs in the District's buildings. The architects concluded that the cost of necessary repairs to the buildings is approximately $7.1 million. Kaufman's report was not well-received by Fitzsimons, Kopilow and Greenbaum who maintain that all of the $30 million proceeds from the sale of the #1 school property be spent on capital improvements. Mansdorf suggested that the board approve a referendum for voter approval to allocate $10 million (from the sale proceeds) for capital improvements, in order to provide a margin of error on top of the architects' estimate. Fitzsimons, Kopilow and Greenbaum balked at the conclusions of the architects and insisted that all of the $30 million proceeds be allocated for capital improvements (suggesting that an old estimate of $33 million in necessary repairs, which was arranged by the Superintendent, was more accurate). Mansdorf suggested that the issue be tabled for further discussion and Kopilow and Greenbaum agreed.
My bottom line: the May 15th vote is an important one for all district voters - and particularly pressing for those with young children.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Kashrut News Roundup

Apparently, there might be a problem with matzoh baked in a Crown Heights matzoh factory. From the NY Sun:
A handmade matzo factory in Brooklyn is facing questions over whether some of the ritual flatbread it produced is kosher enough for observant Jews to use at Passover seders. At issue is whether a former employee at Lubavitch Matzo Bakery, which each week produces thousands of pounds of round "shmura" matzo, is Jewish.

According to some rabbis, matzo used during Passover seders must be made by Jews who utter a Hebrew phrase before rolling each batch of dough. Matzo consumed at other times during the eight-day holiday need not be mixed, kneaded, rolled, or baked by Jews, according to those rabbis.

Last week, a court of Jewish law, the Beth Din of Crown Heights, ruled that while the bakery's matzo is kosher for Passover, some religious Jews should consider purchasing seder matzo elsewhere or from batches baked after the woman was laid off. Passover begins at sundown on Monday, April 2.

An inquiry into the woman's religious background is ongoing, said Yitzchok Tenenbaum, who has been an owner of the Lubavitch Matzo Bakery for more than 20 years. "We told her that until we find out for sure, we couldn't have her working here," he said.
In other Kashrut news, there seems to be some sort of controversy brewing regarding the venerable Manhattan Kosher steakhouse La Marais. Someone who claims to have worked as a Mashgiach there in the past has made claims on both this site as well as this blog that the chef at the restaurant had knowingly sabotaged the Kashrut of the restaurant by putting shellfish in the food, mixing fish and meat, using strawberries which were not inspected for bugs, and using dairy margarine in place of pareve - all which was allegedly brought to attention but ignored by the OU, who provides kashrut certification for the restaurant. The OU, in turn, has put out a lengthy response to the allegations, which can be found here. The story seems to be far more convoluted than what I have put in my brief summary, so if you want more information, go read the sites.



Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cost Of Kosher Food Rises

This item in the Jewish Press notes that a recent survey shows that the cost of a kosher lifestyle has risen in recent years:
A recent survey by the American Jewish Committee shows that American Jews need $25,000-$35,000 a year for what it termed “intensive Jewish experiences” – defined as synagogue membership, Jewish Center membership, Jewish day school and camp experiences, donations and kosher food.

Industry sources say that, on average, the cost of kosher food has risen by approximately 10% over the last year, and this does not include the cost of kosher foods for Passover.
Considering the way my grocery bills have looked lately, I don't find those figures too hard to believe at all.

Can anyone back these survey results with their own anecdotal evidence? And anyone notice any pre-Passover price gouging around your necks of the woods?

Also, isn't it just about time for one of those pre-Passover price-gouging PSA's that we get every year? You know, the ones where the guys from the Department of Consumer Affairs line up behind a table set with of Manischewitz matzah, grape juice, and macaroons, and warn local citizens not to allow stores to overcharge them for Passover items? Did I miss this year's?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lack of Accommodation, Take II

In a follow-up to the story I first posted about here:
A Montreal YMCA is removing frosted glass installed to protect the innocent eyes of young Orthodox Jewish students from scantily clad exercisers but the windows will be covered with blinds.

The decision will return the windows to their state before the frosted glass was installed at the request of the synagogue across the alley.

A poll showed about 72 per cent of YMCA members were satisfied with the solution of covering the windows with blinds, said Serge St-Andre, director of the Park Avenue YMCA.

“It was never our intention to hide women who are training,” Mr. St-Andre said at a news conference on Monday.

“We wanted to protect the privacy of our members while respecting the wishes of our neighbours.”

The YMCA is next to a synagogue where some young male students found the state of undress of some exercisers to be a distraction.

YMCA management tried to be good neighbours, allowing a member of the Jewish community to pay to have the windows frosted.

Renee Lavaillante, a female Y member, started a petition and complained about being hidden behind the frosted glass.

She was pleased with the decision, saying it was a matter of principle.
I said it when I posted on this the first time, and I'll say it again now. I don't understand why it was so difficult for the YMCA members to accommodate others by allowing the frosted window. It's hard to understand what they possibly could have given up had they allowed the window to remain in place, and shown a spirit of sensitivity and compromise to their neighbors.

A peek into what the motivation might have been of those who insisted the window come down can be seen in some of the disturbing comments at the site of the article I linked above. Here's a few fun ones:
Wayne H from Victoria, Canada writes: Well if its not the Muslims its the Jews on so on. I have nothing against in what they believe in. But I do think its time for all you people to stop telling us what we should or should not do.

R. M. from Regina, Canada writes: Now if that isn't just the frosting on the cake! Let's hope those little peekers (have to be careful how I spell that) keep their little minds on their work now!

Mary O'Hara from Toronto, Canada writes: No single one of the acts of "accomodation" by itself is a problem.
The problem arises when one after another, for one special group after another, accomodations are made which add a cost here, a hassle there, and eventually add up to a significant impact.
So, it's time to stop making accomodations, for anyone. That way all are treated equally. We have a historical standard of behaviour and norms, and without widespread pan-societal agreement the should not be changed due to the wishes of a special group.

Andrew Mendez from edmonton, Canada writes: We welcome these people into our country and we are expected to change our way of life to accomodate them, I'm so proud to be Canadian!

poida smith from Canada writes: this is just plain stupid.....what else is there to say......the Y must be "frightened" of offending a very, very, powerful group, that's the only explaination

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The NYT on the Gathering Called "Chulent"

The NYT on Chulent - and they don't (only) mean the food:
Chulent is also the name given to the informal weekly gatherings for Orthodox Jews on the margins of their close-knit society that Mr. Schonfeld, a business consultant from Borough Park, Brooklyn, has been holding in the synagogue for the past year. Setting down his homemade bean stew, he adjusted a little electric heater and began greeting the first of the hundred or so people who would soon stream through the door.

A great majority of rigorously Orthodox Jews would have no interest in such a gathering. But for the small percentage who question aspects of their religion, and yearn to form a community of their own, events like Chulent are increasingly common in New York. As the secular world exerts an ever more powerful pull, a growing array of tools — including Web sites and under-the-radar gatherings like this one — are springing up to serve their needs and ease their way.
An interesting piece. It's nice to see that the people who feel that they are on the fringes of their community aren't being completely cast out of the Orthodox world, and are able to find a place to feel comfortable in their own skin - or in their payos.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Kashrut Deceptions

The NYT's Ethicist, Randy Cohen, fields a question that might strike dread in the heart of any Kashrut-observers who may visit or field visits from friends/relatives who do not observe the same laws of Kashrut:
My wife's sister and her husband keep kosher, so we have a special pot for their visits. Recently my wife caught me using the pot for my traif soup. She insists we must buy another pot, but I say as long as my in-laws believe it's kosher, they won't violate their faith by using it. Would I be unethical to keep this secret or simply cheap? Paul Kramer, Montclair, N.J.
An excerpt from the Ethicist's answer:
Religious laws, like secular ethics, often distinguish between knowing and unknowing transgressions. Menachem Genack, an Orthodox rabbi, claims that this is so for Kashrut, Jewish dietary codes. Biblical law punishes deliberate violations more severely than inadvertent errors (while contemporary Jews impose no actual punishments for Kashrut violations). This would ameliorate but not obviate your in-laws' misdeed. Certainly, it would not justify deceiving them.

Putting aside religion, if your in-laws discover your deception, trust between you will be undermined, much as that between you and your wife must be damaged or at least scuffed.
Well, at least there's some relief in the fact that the Ethicist recommended he tell his in-laws about the treifing up of the pot. But he certainly goes a bit easy on the guy for his complete disrespect toward the religious values of his family members. A few years ago, I had a nanny who was a devout hindu, and who therefore did not eat any beef or beef by-products. I would NEVER have attempted to deceive her regarding the contents of any dishes I cooked, nor would I have lied to her about whether non-beef dishes had been cooked in a pot that had contained beef in the past. The thought simply would not have occurred to me, and I was as careful with her dietary restrictions as I was with my own. Respect for another's religious values seems so simple and basic to me that I cannot begin to conceive that Mr. Paul Kramer would actually put his own name on this question in the New York Times, and risk his in-laws finding out how little he respects their values.

Until I read this, over at Gawker. Apparently, Gawker caught up with Mr. Kramer today, and they got a little background into what type of person would try to deceive his relatives into believing a non-Kosher pot was actually Kosher:
...we examine Kramer's crime in light of last week's controversy, and catch up with him on the phone while he's shopping at the supermarket.

...Kramer volunteered the use of his name, and as we found out this morning when we talked to him, he really didn't care if his in-laws found out about his scheme. "Anyone who knows me knows I'm an a**hole, so it's really not a secret," he said. "If I had trouble with telling my in-laws that I used the pot, then I probably wouldn't have written to him in the first place."
Sounds like a real sweetheart of a guy.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Tips on How NOT to Fight Criticism

eSchool News offers a tip to school board officials on how to handle criticism of their policies. In sum, don't do what Pamela Greenbaum did:
According to an article in the Nassau Herald, Greenbaum was "horrified" by the remarks and the blog's purported readership of 300,000 visitors annually.

Unfortunately, by taking legal action, she has managed to elevate the controversy from a local dispute to the global blogosphere.

A quick Google search yielded another 135,000 results, and the story has jumped from niche newspapers to the mainstream--and national--press.

The moral of the story is that public officials, especially elected school board members, need to have thicker skins.

The law clearly favors free speech, and proving malice--a requirement in libel--is tough. Meanwhile, Orthomom's readership and her folk hero status continue to rise.

Even bloggers who disagree with her viewpoints are coming to Orthomom's defense. "Public debate and the fostering of open communications--particularly in the forum of public education--is not only useful, but absolutely necessary," said a recent post on the Community Alliance blog. "Though unfortunate that some would stoop to name-calling and ad hominem attacks, those in the public's line of fire (as is Trustee Greenbaum) must learn to either take the heat or stay out of the kitchen."

Ignoring bloggers and other citizen journalists clearly isn't the answer, however. Remember John Kerry and the Swift Boat controversy? Kerry assumed the mainstream media--and voters--wouldn't consider the anonymous and unproven allegations credible. When he finally started fighting back, his campaign had already derailed.

A better approach, public relations experts say, is to aggressively and proactively tell your side of the story--and engage the community in the issues.
It would have been nice had Pamela Greenbaum tried to "engage the community in the issues", but apparently, that is not something she is at all interested in doing. Why, isn't it so much easier to lash out at your critics with frivolous legal action than actually try to rationally, intelligently, and reasonably explain why they're wrong?

Also: The NY Sun reports on the lawsuit.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Orthomom Lawsuit Update

Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen, the attorney representing me in the Pamela Greenbaum/Google/Orthomom lawsuit has filed an Opposition to Petition for Discovery. Find all 37 pages of the brief here (PDF).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bizarro Experience Today

I am still sort of reeling from a bizarre incident that happened to me earlier today.

I was in kind of a low mood today for various inconsequential reasons, so I decided to duck out of work to do a little clothes shopping for Pesach - I envisioned a nice relaxing hour or so spent in retail therapy. Alas, it was not to be.

I walked into a store that had a cute dress in the window and was immediately accosted by a superthin, superblonde, superperky, superpushy sales person, offering to help. Now, I absolutely loathe pushy sales staff. When approached with the dreaded "Anything I can help you with today?", I have pretty much mastered the cool, disinterested response of "No thanks, just looking". It usually works as an instant deterrent to overly pushy sales people. Not today. Five seconds after I had selected some cute items and ensconced myself in the fitting room, a disembodied hand which I assume belonged to annoying pushy bleached blonde saleswoman (hereafter APBBS) appeared from behind the curtain, with some sort of flimsy green chiffon sequined miniskirt dangling from it. "Isn't this just adorable?" came the voice that I can only assume was attached to the hand, attached to APBBS. "I have it here in your size!" My reply: "Um, thanks, but it's just not me." Not thirty seconds later, APBBS: "How about this one?" This time, some sleeveless ruffled concoction appears, attached to the floating hand. How annoying? I figure that if I tell APBBS that the clothes have to be longer and have sleeves, perhaps APBBS will stop bothering me and I can try on my selections in peace. So I peek my head out and quickly explain to APBBS that the clothes have to be more modest, so thanks for all the suggestions, but no thanks. Her eyes widen in recognition as I see it click in her brain that I am "one of those", and she scurries away, hopefully to leave me alone for a few minutes.

Yeah. Nice try. Next up, waving from behind the velvet curtain? Some frothy little pink suit with black lace trim. Not exactly my taste (though I'll give the woman credit, it was relatively modest). "How about this, sweetie? It's great for synagogue!". Argh. "Thanks, it just isn't my style". And then again: "How about this darling sweater? All of the Jewish girls love it!" (She really really said that.) At that point, I was finishing up as fast as I could, and I came out to see how the dress looked in the mirror (this being a store with the annoying breed of fitting rooms that do not have a mirror in each individual room, forcing customers out to use the large communal mirror - all the better to give the pushy annoying sales staff every opportunity to get access to torture you). At which point, APBBS came over and began tying the sash for me and adjusting the dress. The dress which I was actually wearing at that moment. At which point, due to my feelings about getting touched by people I don't know but already don't like, I sort of started backing away from her. At which point, APBBS said "Don't worry, you can let me touch you to fix your belt, I'm Jewish too, so I'm a very clean woman". At which point, Orthomom was rendered completely speechless for a moment. When I found my tongue, I mumbled something about not liking strangers to touch me, whether they were Jewish or non-Jewish (not necessarily the appropriate response to her bizarro comment, but really, is there actually even an appropriate response to such a bizarro comment??), got dressed and got the heck out of the store.

But the whole experience was a bit unnerving for me. I could have taken the idiotic comments about an outfit being "great for synagogue" or "what all the Jewish girls are wearing". That may well just be APBBS's idea of what pandering to a potential customer means. (I think you should try this skirt on, it's perfect for eating Matzah! Wouldn't this shirt would be great for lighting Hanukah candles!) But her comment that implied that I somehow was annoyed that she was touching me because she was a non-Jew? Do you think there are really people who live and work in the middle of Manhattan who think that an Orthodox Jew wouldn't be allowed to casually touch a non-Jew because they are somehow unclean? You have to wonder how many layers of misinformation and misunderstandings about Orthodox Judaism would bring someone (who claims to be Jewish, to boot!) to think that.

"Obama's Jewish Problem"

Ben Smith at Politico reports on some fallout that Barack Obama might be suffering from his comment of last week that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people". Iowa Democrat and AIPAC member David Adelman has written a letter asking Obama to clarify the statement - though an AIPAC spokesman maintains that Obama has a "strong record of support" for Israel.

Details here.
Update: I see SIW already got to this, and has more.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

NYT on Purim Partying

The NYT briefly covers a raucous Chabad Purim party in Willamsburg - with both Hasids and hipsters in attendance.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Orthomom Lawsuit Update

Steven I. Weiss posts an update on the Greenbaum/Google/Orthomom lawsuit, with lots of goodies included. Don't miss it - and I'll have much more in the way of comment after Shabbat. To all my readers: Shabbat Shalom and have a great weekend.

Check Out Jewess

Don't miss the latest content up over at Jewess. You can find my latest posting for the site right here. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Graduation Gripe

A Muslim student sued the Newark public schools on Wednesday, claiming that he was unable to attend his high school graduation last June because it was held in a church. The student, Bilal Shareef, 18, said it was against his beliefs to set foot in any building with symbols involving God.

“The position I was put in was very, very uncomfortable,” said Mr. Shareef, who graduated from West Side High with a 4.0 grade-point average and is a student at Union County College in Cranford. He is seeking damages and an order to bar the use of churches for future graduations.
The article is unclear as to whether Shareef gave the school timely notice of the fact that entering a church was incompatible with his religious beliefs. If he did, and the school administration chose to hold it in a church anyhow, I believe he is absolutely justified in filing suit over being forced to miss his high school graduation.

Of course, aside from the question of whether the student was comfortable attending his own graduation if it was held in a church - are public school graduations even allowed to be held in a place of worship from a First Amendment point of view?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Orthomom Purim Spoof Roundup

Larry Gordon of the 5TJT spoofs the Orthomom/Pam Greenbaum lawsuit here. Quite amusing.

The Purim podcast contains quite a few very funny OM/Pam Greenbaum mentions - check them out here. Thanks Jameel and Ezzie for all the hard work!

RWAC posts the words to his part in the podcast here.

And lastly, to the Red Shul Purim Shpiel Committee: I found the Orthomom bit very amusing. But you guys aren't even close.

Monday, March 05, 2007

SD 15 News

This week's 5TJT ran an article by School Board President Asher Mansdorf which related a very interesting development that took place at last week's school board meeting:
On Tuesday evening, the Board of Education ratified an agreement with the parents of several children who attend Kulanu Torah Academy [a special education Yeshiva] at a total cost of $135,000. To preserve the dignity of the families involved, and to protect the identity of the children, the agreements are negotiated out of the public eye. In an attempt to reach an agreement on student services and placement without the need for litigation, the school attorney and the director of special education met with the students’ advocates in a resolution session. The BOE directed the administration to do their very best to resolve the issue, and they did so successfully. The benefit is self-evident. The children are receiving an appropriate education in an environment that both their parents and educational mentors feel will result is a positive academic experience.

This settlement is in contrast to last year when the BOE authorized expenditures exceeding $350,000 to litigate against children who contested their special education placements. That expenditure was in addition to over $200,000 in settlements. When the BOE decides to contest a unilateral placement, the toll on the family, the school, and the child is not purely financial. However, the process for each impartial hearing can exceed $18,000 per student.

This year, instead of proceeding to full-blown court battles, the BOE decided to attempt an alternative procedure that was within their purview. Parents of special needs children filed a form requesting “due process” and our special education coordinator entered into a resolution phase. This process is practiced by many school districts in order to avoid litigation and to alleviate the stress on the families of special needs children.

The BOE, in an executive session, discussed the process at length. Mr. Kopilow revealed at the open session Tuesday that in a 5-2 vote the BOE agreed to allow the district to attempt to settle the cases out of court. He wanted to go on record publicly stating that he disagreed with the settlement. Stan Kopilow and Pamela Greenbaum voiced concern over setting a precedent in settling with a non-state approved institution. What they both neglected to say was that on the same agenda the BOE settled a similar claim for a special education public school student to attend a non-state approved institution. They leave the impression that monies are simply being siphoned from the public sector to the private one. Members of the audience echoed that false impression during public comment.
So in an account that comes directly from President Asher Mansdorf, we hear that Stanley Kopilow and Pamela Greenbaum are making a stink over the district agreeing to provide for special needs private school students. We also find out that on the same agenda, a settlement was reached to provide similar services for a public school student - and Kopilow and Greenbaum chose not to mention that. Can someone explain to me how it's possible for these two board members to come out against a settlement when it concerns private school students, and not mention a similar arrangement that benefits a public school student? Mr. Mansdorf seems to have a suggestion for the conundrum:
These facts have no religion, no level of observance, and no racial identity. They are clear and irrefutable. They point to a situation wherein otherwise intelligent individuals who are absolutely blinded by hatred have allowed their emotions to cloud their judgment.
Is the motivation for this uneven treatment toward fulfilling special education requests actually, as Dr. Mandorf suggests, pure "hatred"? Or does someone have another suggestion as to how two so similar situations can be treated so differently at the hands of certain board members? Anyone?

More on Purim Drinking

The LA Times ran an article this weekend over the rampant underage drinking that occurs every year around Purim time:
Purim, a holiday celebrating the foiling of a plot to kill the Jews of ancient Persia, is often used by many — including the underaged — as an excuse to get drunk.

The festival, which starts today at sundown, is observed with costumes, storytelling and boisterous behavior. But growing concern about excessive drinking on Purim is prompting some Jewish leaders and groups to call for moderation or to suggest that celebrants forgo alcohol entirely.

An incident last year, in which an Orthodox Jewish high school student in Los Angeles went to an emergency room after drinking too much during another religious holiday, triggered debate and reflection about alcohol abuse in the Jewish community.

"We're recognizing that with many of the teens who end up with a substance abuse problem, it was on Purim they got their start," said Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B'nai David-Judea, an Orthodox congregation in West Los Angeles.
The article suggests a crackdown of sorts on underage imbibing in the LA area this year. I would love to know how well that worked out. I heard much talk of a similar "crackdown" on the part of local yeshivas and Shuls in the wake of some incidents of irresponsible underage drinking last Purim. As a matter of fact, I received a letter in the mail from the administration of a Yeshiva whose students often come each Purim to collect in local homes, requesting that their Purim donors not serve alcohol to the students who come collecting. That's all very nice, and I guess making the request not to get the minors sloshed must be some sort of new and exciting trend, but how much clarity have we lost when the head of a Yeshiva has to send out a letter politely requesting ostensibly mature and responsible adults not to illegally serve minors alcohol - and that said letter is considered somehow groundbreaking?

I have no idea if this supposed crackdown cut down appreciably on underage drinking. I certainly saw my fair share of slobbering drunk teens while delivering Mishloach Manot around the neighborhood. Reports from your neighborhoods, readers? Anyone think that the drinking was less widespread? More? Did all this raising of awareness about the problem that we saw in the weeks leading up to Purim help at all? I'd love to hear from readers on this.

Ann Coulter: Still an Idiot

I've always been pretty clear about my feelings for Ann Coulter. They haven't changed a bit.