By Kate Taylor (New York Times)
September 6, 2017
Responding to complaints that several dozen yeshivas in New York City fell short of the state requirement that they provide an education “at least substantially equivalent” to that offered in public schools, officials at the city’s Department of Education said they would investigate. That was two years ago.
On Wednesday, saying that the city had repeatedly blown self-imposed deadlines for releasing a report on the investigation, a group of activists stood on the steps of City Hall and accused Mayor Bill de Blasio and his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, of turning a blind eye to what they called educational neglect.
Roughly 57,000 students attend ultra-Orthodox Jewish yeshivas in New York City, and according to the activists, from a group called Young Advocates for Fair Education, many of the students, particularly the boys, will finish school with poor to nonexistent English and math skills, and little knowledge of history or science.
Naftuli Moster, 31, the executive director of the group, said he was disappointed with the mayor and the chancellor.
“Both are said to be staunch advocates for children, for human rights, for fairness,” he said, “yet when it came to education of tens of thousands of Hasidic children they failed us and them miserably. I wasn’t taught New York history, so I can’t say this for sure, but this appears to be, to me, as one of the biggest scandals in this city.”
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Mr. Moster said that, given the administration’s delays, the group had decided to release its own report on the yeshivas, based on interviews and a survey of former students and parents. In the report, which was distributed to reporters, the group identified the yeshivas that they considered the worst offenders. Among them was Educational Institute Oholei Torah in Crown Heights, which the report said provided no instruction in secular subjects.
“I attended school Sunday through Friday, everyday all day, and I did not learn how to read or write in the English language,” said Chaim Levin, 28, a graduate. “I was not taught history, science, or geography, and I learned no math skills. The only thing we studied was texts from the Old Testament and the Talmud.”
Mr. Levin said he had been surprised to learn that Mayor de Blasio had sent a congratulatory message to the yeshiva for a fund-raiser it held this year. Mr. de Blasio cited the institution’s “excellence” and said it gave its students “the tools they need to build solid foundations for their futures.”
“This is false,” Mr. Levin said. “Oholei Torah has done no such thing. Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña know this very well.”
Representatives from Educational Institute Oholei Torah did not respond to requests for comment by phone and email.
Asked when the education department planned to release a report on its investigation, a spokeswoman, Toya Holness, said, “The investigation is ongoing and we are treating this matter with utmost seriousness.”
The report said that some yeshivas offered more instruction in secular subjects than Oholei Torah. On average, the report said, boys in elementary school received roughly 90 minutes of instruction in secular subjects, including reading and writing in English, four days a week. After age 13, the typical boy received no instruction in secular subjects. Since girls cannot become rabbis, they typically receive more secular education than boys.
Because some yeshivas have claimed that they are limited by financial resources, Young Advocates for Fair Education tried to track the amount of federal, state and city funding going to yeshivas. This was difficult because Hasidic yeshivas use a tax exemption granted churches that does not require them to file financial documents with the Internal Revenue Service. Nonetheless, the group found that some yeshivas receive hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in public funds.
Many have suggested that the de Blasio administration is stalling for political reasons, because ultra-Orthodox Jews tend to vote in large numbers.
Only one elected official joined the news conference on Wednesday: City Councilman Daniel Dromm, the chairman of the Council’s education committee. Mr. Dromm said that he tried to give the mayor and the chancellor the benefit of the doubt and time to do their investigation.
“But two plus years of time — no, it’s unacceptable at this point,” he said.