Hillcrest Elementary School (Josh Nathan-Kazis)
Tensions are running high over the sale of the Hillcrest Elementary School to a New Square yeshiva. Photo by Josh Nathan-Kazis
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The dirt road that someone cut through a few feet of brush to connect the Hasidic village of New Square to the playing fields of Hillcrest Elementary School in early October is only the latest in a series of puzzles surrounding the contested sale of the shuttered public school.

In this ethnically divided section of suburban Rockland County, close to New York City, it is also one more cause for an uptick in tensions between the area’s Orthodox Jewish community and their neighbors.

The road might not have been a problem had the New York State Education Department not placed a hold in late August on the purchase of the school by a New Square yeshiva, after a public school parent filed a complaint alleging, among other things, that the $3.2 million sale price was far below market value. And both the prematurely cleared road and the questions about the school’s sale price might have escaped notice if they hadn’t come as emotions over the mangement of the public school system were already threatening to spiral out of control.

Although Orthodox Jews in the predominantly Jewish upstate New York villages of Monsey and New Square send their children to private religious schools, six of the eight elected members of the Board of Education of the East Ramapo Central School District are Orthodox. A ninth, who recently resigned and has yet to be replaced, is also Orthodox. Some non-Orthodox community members allege that the Orthodox members of the board support the religious schools at the expense of the public school system — claims that the Orthodox board denies. But people on both sides agree that anger over the issue is running high.

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