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18 New York Hasidic Schools Don't Provide Basic Education - City Inspectorate Finds


Olga Derkach

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New York City officials said eighteen private schools run by the Hasidic Jewish community are breaking the law because they don't provide their students with a proper education. The edition told in more detail The New York Times.

The findings came as an extreme rebuke to schools known as yeshivot, which receive hundreds of millions of dollars annually from the budget but have long resisted outside oversight.

The decisions about schools that offer intensive Yiddish religious instruction but little instruction in English, math or other secular subjects marked the first time the city has found that private schools have failed to provide adequate education.

The move was all the more remarkable because it was made by city officials who shied away from criticizing the politically powerful Hasidic community. And this was due to a protracted investigation that lasted eight years, during which two city halls changed, and was often hampered by political interference as well as bureaucratic inertia.

If the State Department of Education confirms the findings, schools may be required to submit detailed improvement plans and be reviewed. The law, however, does not clarify what consequences educational institutions may face if they do not commit themselves to improvement.

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A spokesman for the city's education department said the department had conducted a "thorough and objective review" of Hasidic schools.

"As always, our goal is to build trust, work with the community, and ensure schools comply with state education laws and regulations," said Representative Nathaniel Styer. “Our goal is to educate children, not punish adults.”

Some yeshiva spokesman Richard Bamberger stated that the Hasidic community "rejects the attempt to measure the effectiveness of yeshiva education by applying a distorted set of specifications."

“Using a government checklist designed and implemented by lawyers can help explain the state of the public education,” Bamberger said. “It was designed to obscure, not shed light on the beauty and success of yeshiva education.”

Supporters of yeshiva reform said they were cautiously optimistic about the results.

“We hope that the completion of this investigation will force the city and Mayor Eric Adams to act on behalf of the thousands of students who are denied the right to a good basic education,” said Beatrice Weber, executive director of Yaffed, a group of former students and parents whose complaints prompted the investigation.

It was previously reported that many Hasidic boys' schools in Brooklyn and the lower Hudson Valley denied their students a proper secular education, and teachers at some schools used corporal punishment to enforce order.

The Hasidim, a passionately religious part of the larger Orthodox Jewish community, operate more than 200 gender-segregated schools across the state. In particular, boys' schools have less secular education than girls' schools, focusing instead on the analysis of religious texts. The city's investigation has looked into complaints against more than two dozen Brooklyn schools that have thousands of children enrolled.

Mayor Eric Adams, a longtime ally of the city's Hasidic leaders, vowed to complete an investigation into schools that began in 2015 under his predecessor, Bill de Blasio.

The results of the city's investigation were summarized in letters sent to state officials on June 29. Of the 18 schools deemed unsatisfactory by the city, officials finally determined that four were breaking the law. The city recommended that the state make the same decision for the remaining 14 schools. By law, the city has the right to make final decisions regarding not all schools. A state education department spokesman said officials are considering the city's recommendations.

The city said the five other schools they studied were in compliance with the law only because they belonged to state-approved programs. These schools will not be subject to additional scrutiny.

Only two of more than two dozen schools surveyed by the city were found to be in compliance with the law based on the quality of their teaching, echoing preliminary findings released by the de Blasio administration in late 2019. One of the schools was a yeshiva for girls.

In letters summarizing the investigation, officials described visiting schools and finding shortcomings in course planning or teacher certification. In some cases, officials reported seeing no lessons at all in core subjects.

After numerous visits to the Ohhole Torah in Crown Heights, one of the largest yeshivas in the state, inspectors said they found "insufficient evidence that teachers have the appropriate knowledge, skills, and inclination to deliver proper secular teaching."

At another school, Bnei Shimon Yisroel from Sopron in Williamsburg, inspectors noted a complete lack of English language instruction in reading, spelling, writing, math, geography, history, civics and science.

Former yeshiva student who founded Yaffed, Naftuli Moster, said he was pleased with the results.

“Ten years of my adult life were spent trying to recover what I was never given as a child,” Moster explained. "This report confirms our efforts and promises today's children that their under-education will not go unnoticed and can still improve."

Over the past eight years, the city's investigation has faced a number of obstacles. As The Times found, the de Blasio administration often acquiesced to the lawyer representing yeshivas when conducting inspections, giving schools advance notice of visits and allowing the lawyer to accompany the inspectors.

Some schools put off testing for years, and city officials later admitted they didn't understand what they were supposed to be assessing in the classes they were testing.

According to the city's Investigation Department report, de Blasio engaged in "political bargaining" by delaying the release of preliminary school data. Preliminary findings were published shortly before Christmas 2019.

In recent years, State Commissioner of Education Betty Rose has stepped up efforts to ensure that yeshivas provide basic education.

Last fall, Rosa rejected the city's recommendation that a Hasidic Boys' School be established in Brooklyn in accordance with state law. She strongly criticized the city's investigation of the school and found it to be in violation of the law, so she told them to come up with an improvement plan.

Last year, the New York State Board of Regents adopted new rules proposed by Rosa and laid out the consequences for schools that have failed to provide a basic education.

However, these rules were relaxed after years of protests from Hasidic leaders. They were further weakened earlier this year when a judge hearing a lawsuit filed by some yeshivas ruled that the state could not close schools for noncompliance. The rulings, among other things, give schools an extended window of time to demonstrate their attempts to make improvements before facing further consequences.

The Department of Education conducted an investigation, although Mayor Adams, who formally controls the department, is very fond of yeshivot and often praises them.

“Instead of focusing on how we can replicate our success in improving our children, we are attacking yeshivas that provide quality education,” Adams said in a May address to the community of yeshiva administrators.

During a June visit to Hasidic leaders, he once again came out strongly in defense of the schools.

“Unfortunately, people outside of your community don't understand that all you want is to live in peace, educate your children, and be able to provide for your community,” Adams said. “I know this because, as I said, I am not a new friend, I am an old friend, and old friends respect each other.”

He then accepted a plaque from Hasidic leaders in gratitude for protecting the yeshivas.

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