Globe Briefs August 20
N.Y. state panel to study controversial E. Ramapo school district
The New York State Education Department appointed a panel to study the operations of the haredi Orthodox controlled school board in the East Ramapo school district.
The board in the school district, located in New York’s suburban Rockland County, has stirred controversy and local ire for its decisions over the years to significantly cut public school budgets while expanding services that benefit the area’s large haredi Orthodox Jewish population, such as busing to yeshivas and special education for yeshiva students with disabilities. In addition, at least two district schools have been shuttered and their facilities sold to yeshivas.
The three-expert panel, to be led by former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, will study the district’s operations and offer recommendations to the school board and the Board of Regents. It will not, however, have the power to override decisions by the school board.
Last fall, a former federal prosecutor appointed by the state to investigate the school board, Henry M. Greenberg, determined that the board had diverted money from the district’s public schools to yeshiva children and recommended the appointment of a state fiscal monitor with the power to override school board decisions. But a bill to appoint such a monitor failed to pass the State Senate.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told The New York Times that she hoped the board would be amenable to the new panel’s recommendations.
“This is less of a powerful position for the team, but in the circumstances where we don’t have collaboration with the district, there will be action taken,” Elia said.
For example, the commissioner has the power to remove members of the school board and to order it to comply with state regulations, she told the newspaper.
East Ramapo’s public schools serve about 8,000 students, most of them black or Latino, while about 24,000 children in the district attend yeshivas, according to The Times.
Detroit JCC camp counselor charged for filming naked boys in locker room
A counselor at a JCC day camp in suburban Detroit was charged with producing child pornography after allegedly filming prepubescent boys in the JCC locker room and sharing the photos online.
Matthew David Kuppe, 21, of West Bloomfield, Mich., was arraigned in federal court last week and charged with production, distribution, receipt and possession of child pornography, the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press reported.
If convicted, the rising senior at Michigan State University faces up to 20 years in federal prison. He is being held without bond pending a hearing in federal court. Prosecutors are trying to determine if there are additional victims.
“This defendant had access to a large number of children, and we would like to conduct interviews and look at evidence,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said last week, according to the Detroit News.
Kuppe, who used the handle “jcclockerroom” to post several photos of the naked boys on a foreign website, worked at the JCC of Metropolitan Detroit’s day camp for two years and at one point supervised its special-needs campers. Under questioning, he allegedly admitted to posting nude photos of the boys on the website and using the jcclockerroom email account, which contained several emails with child pornography.
Michael Layne, spokesman for the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit, said in a statement to the Free Press that the JCC was notified last week that a summer camp counselor was being investigated by West Bloomfield Police.
“Subsequently, we were notified that the individual had been taken into custody for alleged possession of photographs of campers taken while using the locker room and restroom facilities,” Layne said in a statement. “The staff member was immediately terminated. In accordance with our policies, the individual was subject to a criminal background investigation that came back clear prior to his employment.
The statement said the JCC was “cooperating fully” with the police investigation.
“We are communicating with the parents of our program participants,” Layne said.
A JCC email to parents said Kuppe, who the email did not identify by name, had in his possession photographs of three JCC campers and that “the affected families have been contacted by the authorities.” The email said Kuppe was not only dismissed but “banned from JCC properties.”
The email, from CEO James Issner and board president Brian Siegel, also noted that it had “received no complaints” about Kuppe prior to his arrest.
The investigation started earlier this month after a Homeland Security agent learned of the “jcclockerroom” photos, which “depicted the prepubescent boys’ genitalia,” according to court records.
In an email exchange with an undercover agent, “firstname.lastname@example.org” wrote, “I only get to touch him a few times,” before giving graphic descriptions of the boy and adding, “I have more pics, but you need to send me some first … What would you do to these little boys (be graphic).”
According to court papers cited by the Free Press, Kuppe described how he sexually abused the boy as he was changing out of his clothes and that he planned to give the young boy oral sex.
Investigators are trying to determine whether Kuppe in fact sexually assaulted any of the boys.
“We have a general idea of how many victims there are, but we want to make sure there’s not more,” Curt Lawson, the deputy chief of the West Bloomfield Police, told the Detroit News. “It’s not like 50 (victims), but we don’t want to say how many at this point.”
Homeland Security agents traced the gmail account’s IP address to Kuppe’s home, which they raided.
The Free Press reported that Kuppe’s attorney, Michael Rex, could not be reached for comment.