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Parents, Students Disappointed By Sudden Closure Of Elementary School In Westchester County Due To Lack Of Safety Inspections

RYE BROOK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - A top-rated suburban school district has been forced to close an elementary school.

The state says the district opened the building without appropriate inspections and other approvals.

Parents are angry and worried that maybe their children were put at risk.

As CBS2's Tony Aiello reports, with school closed, some students played catch, while others protested outside Ridge Street Elementary in Rye Brook.

"Very disappointed, because I love going to school," said student Chelsea Honig.

Ridge Street is in the middle of a massive renovation and addition project.

The building opened Monday and held classes all week, even as construction proceeded.

Then a letter from the state education commissioner closed the school Friday, saying the Blind Brook District was "using space for instruction without appropriate inspections and other approvals."

Web Extra: Read The Letter (.pdf)

"It does raise some red flags.  I'm hoping that this is some red tape, and that hopefully they weren't sitting in a building that was unsafe. Because I would really hope that the higher-ups would not allow them to be in a building that was not safe," said parent Alissa Levine.

After an email from the superintendent claimed no children were put at risk, the state responded late Friday. The violations included "nonfunctional alarm systems" and "nonfunctional sprinklers," saying the decision to open without approvals showed "brazen, perhaps criminal disregard."

"I'm just confused.  I want to understand what's going on," one parent said.

Several parents told Aiello they are livid they learned about the closure from an online news article, rather than a district email.

The board president apologized and the district promised to submit all the required inspection certificates to the state and reopen the school as soon as possible.

It's clear the closure has opened lingering issues of trust.

"I think I don't trust anybody at this point. It's so upsetting that I feel like we've kind of been lied to," parent Ivy Adler said.

The state called the problems "multiple serious violations," saying it is "unfathomable" the district didn't close the school until the state issued an emergency directive.

Friday afternoon, the school board said it is "outraged" by the allegations by the state education department, and said it had a valid certificate of occupancy for the school until the state revoked it Wednesday night.

On Saturday, a state Department of Education official told CBS2:

Any previously issued certificate of occupancy (CO) was no longer valid after the major changes to the building were made in spring/summer 2021 as a result of construction that took fire protection systems offline, which included fire alarm and sprinkler systems, changes to fire separations and changes to prevent safe exiting. All of these measures are basic required life safety systems and components of design. As district representatives acknowledged in their communications to us upon asking for permission to go to remote learning prior to the start of the school year, the extensive construction required a new CO and inspection before the building was re-occupied. The numerous violations discovered, including non-operational fire safety systems, in the School demonstrate the wisdom of this legal requirement.

Editor's note: This story was first published Sept. 17.

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