The state education commissioner blasted the Blind Brook school district on Friday for allowing staff and students to enter its elementary school without obtaining inspection permits as part of a construction project .
Blind Brook School District officials said on Friday they were working on reopening Bruno M. Ponterio Ridge Street School in Rye Brook after it was closed by the state on Wednesday due to ongoing construction issues.
This is the first time the state has been forced to close a school in several years, Education Commissioner Betty Rosa wrote in a letter to the school system on Friday.
The school hosted students and staff for three days without a certificate of occupancy, according to the state, a move that led to the fiery letter from its education commissioner on Friday.
The state has banned students and staff from entering the building until the district obtains the required building inspections following a state investigation, according to the Education Department.
“Close orders are not issued lightly,” Rosa wrote. “And it was only issued after SED learned that the district illegally allowed staff and students to enter the building without a valid occupancy certificate.”
The commissioner called an intentional move to have students and staff in the building without a certificate of occupancy “brazen” and possibly even criminal. The action could justify the dismissal of school officials for breaching their duties under the education law, she wrote.
In the letter, Rosa called it “unfathomable” that it took a state directive to close the school.
“Which was the only morally and legally acceptable action,” she added.
The Education Commissioner has listed many fire hazards in parts of the building under construction or occupied by students, including:
- non-functional fire alarms
- blocked and poorly lit paths to exits
- doors without proper hardware, which would make it difficult to escape from a burning building
- non-functional sprinklers and fire blocks not installed that would slow a fire
The school was open Monday through Wednesday, closed Thursday for Yom Kippur, and was declared banned on Friday.
Hundreds of students attend primary school. It is not known if they were in distance learning on Friday.
The problems stem from the ongoing construction at the Rye Brook village school.
At a Zoom school board meeting on Friday afternoon, Blind Brook Schools Superintendent Dr Patrick Brimstein said the district was working to get the necessary inspections. Information from those inspections conducted on Friday would then be submitted to the state in the hopes of obtaining a full or partial certificate of occupancy, Brimstein added.
He stressed that there was no risk to health or safety while the students were in the building.
In her letter sent on Friday, Rosa stressed that there were several “serious violations which led to the closure of the school”.
She wrote: “Imagine the potential tragedy if a fire were to occur in this building this week.”
Rosa wrote in a separate letter on Wednesday that ordered the district to be closed, which was to do the following to reopen:
- An architect’s certification attesting that all occupied areas of the building are safe.
- A full inspection of the entire building by a code enforcement officer, who will indicate if additional work is required in certain areas to be considered safe for occupancy.
- A certificate of occupancy from the fire safety office of the education department, which will provide the requirements for safe occupancy in limited areas of the building under construction.
In response to Rosa’s letter on Friday, the district sent Journal News / lohud a scanned copy of a certificate of occupancy for the elementary school. The district said the certificate of occupancy appears to show it went into effect in March 2021 and expires in March 2022.
At the Zoom meeting on Friday, Education Council Chairman Scott Jaffee admitted the school should have communicated better about the shutdown, calling it “unacceptable”. He apologized to parents who learned the Ridge Street school would be closed on Friday after reading it in local media, not directly to the school system.
“We have not reached the level of transparency,” he told parents.
This is a developing story. Check back later for any updates.