New York City education officials have completed a probe of Yeshivas accused of failing to provide students with an adequate secular education.
Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the investigation in July 2015, after YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education) published a list of 39 Yeshivas that received public funding, but they claim failed to provide adequate secular education.
By state law, private K-12 schools must provide an education “substantially equivalent” to that in public schools.
NYC School Chancellor Richard Carranza sent a 14-page letter to New York’s state education commissioner expressing “serious concern” after he says 15 Yeshivas refused to allow city officials inside to investigate. Carranza says the city “made repeated attempts to gain access” to the 15 Yeshivas for two years.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Carranza’s letter said department staff visited 15 additional schools cited for concern, where yeshiva leaders “expressed a commitment to expanding students’ exposure to secular instruction and to improving the instruction itself”. The agency found that nine other sites fell outside the scope of the review, mostly because they had closed or taught students older than 12th grade, and one location turned out to be a butcher shop.
Avi Schick, an attorney for the yeshivas under scrutiny, denied the city’s claim of barred access. “It’s false,” he said. “The city for this entire year has dithered.” Shick added that 8 of the 15 yeshivas were willing to schedule visits with the city.
In response to the letter, Rabbi Chaim David Zwiebel, Executive VP of Agudath Israel of America, said “there’s so much here that’s positive and important and a cause for celebration,”
Zwiebel said the schools have added new textbooks and teacher training “because the schools recognize and understand not only that there are legal obligations but more importantly that children who go through the system should emerge with the basic skills and tools necessary to function as citizens in society.”
But Naftuli Moster, executive director of YAFFED, noted that all of the school visits were arranged in advance. “Undoubtedly, the schools prepared for those visits and put their best foot forward — even if it was a fabricated foot,” he said.
Moster also said it was “disappointing but not surprising” that city education officials were not allowed into 15 schools.
Dozens of Yeshivas under investigation formed a coalition in 2016 called PEARLS, or Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, to insist on parents’ rights to choose an education that suited their beliefs. PEARLS pledged to disseminate new, improved reading and math curricula, and provide teacher training, to meet state standards.
PEARLS provided YWN with the following statement in regard to the Department of Education letter:
For the past three years, New York’s orthodox Jewish communities have been forced to endure a relentless campaign of slander against their schools and way of life.
Today the City’s Department of Education transmitted its findings to the State Education Department. The letter confirms that YAFFED’s allegations against the yeshivas have no basis in fact. To the contrary, the city’s letter cites one example after another of our yeshiva children receiving a rich education.
The state must now recognize this matter for what it is: An attempt to usurp parents’ rights to select the best education for their children – particularly if the schools in question are located in orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. It is time to end this assault on our community once and for all.
The DOE found YAFFED’S allegations of substandard education to be false. DOE officials visited 15 of the 30 schools listed in YAFFED’s complaint, and found quality teaching and learning environments in those schools.
DOE report is out. YAFFED forced the city to waste thousands upon thousands of dollars in taxpayer money on a three-year investigation that failed to rule in favor of a single allegation against our yeshivas. It is time to bring this pointless campaign to an end. #ProtectYeshivas
— PEARLS (@pearlsNY) August 16, 2018
The DOE’s investigation also established that YAFFED’s complaint involved at most 30 schools, not the 39 that were previously cited, and that after interviewing the complainants it turned out that they had first-hand information about only 11 of those schools.
Any suggestion that the yeshivas were less than cooperative in arranging the remaining visits is false. We have spent endless hours working with the DOE to address YAFFED’s attacks on our yeshivas. We facilitated visits to 15 schools and repeatedly offered to arrange more. DOE is more than welcome to see any of our classrooms and witness the extraordinary education we offer our children.
Significantly, the yeshivas visited by DOE to date have been those with the largest enrollments. Specifically, the 15 schools visited educated more than 13,000 students, while the remaining eight elementary schools have an aggregate enrollment of only 3,000.
That means that DOE has visited schools with more than 80% of the students in all elementary schools listed in YAFFED’s complaint.
— YAFFED (@yaffedorg) August 16, 2018
It is not the city that is mostly at fault here. YAFFED’s tiny group of media-savvy activists ginned up the debate by disseminating information that few bothered to fact-check. They released a report on secular education at the yeshivas that many cited as a credible source – even though its findings were based on a survey of the YAFFED founder’s Facebook friends.
YAFFED’s caricature of a backward culture deliberately keeping its children ignorant played into awful stereotypes about the orthodox communities. Years of hard work by civic leaders to combat such prejudices were undermined by the controversy.
There are more than 425 yeshivas in New York, educating more than 165,000 students. Of those, more than 275, with approximately 115,000 students, are in New York City. The schools not yet visited by DOE educate a small fraction of those students.
We remain proud of our yeshivas, our students, teachers and entire community and continue our commitment to the belief that parents deserve the right to choose the best education for their children.
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)