New York mayor Bill de Blasio pushed back against criticisms that he has been soft on ultra-Orthodox schools that have illegally declined to offer their students secular studies.
Speaking at a press conference Thursday, de Blasio said that city officials had “engaged in a dialogue with a number of schools” that was “very productive.” Likely responding to recent harsh editorials in New York’s tabloid press, the mayor asserted that the media was looking for “instant gratification.”
The city launched a probe into its yeshiva system in 2015 following a complaint by the Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED) activist group. The group asserted that 39 Orthodox institutions were failing to meet standards set by state law requiring private schools to offer a curriculum “substantially equivalent” to that of the public system.
Last week, after three years of work, New York City schools chancellor Richard A. Carranza issued a report stating that 15 out of the 30 yeshivas under investigation did not allow inspectors to enter even though the Department of Education “has made repeated attempts to gain access to the schools.”
In response, YAFFED founder Naftuli Moster told the New York Times that it was “disappointing, but not surprising.”
“Reading between the lines, it’s hard not to conclude there is both a lack of secular instruction going on in these schools and that these schools believe they are above the law,” said Moster.
In a scathing editorial late last month, the New York Post accused de Blasio of running a “phony probe.”
“Students leave the schools deprived of the basic skills they’ll need in a secular world,” read an editorial. “If City Hall truly wanted to make sure these kids are getting a proper education, it would’ve finished the probe long ago. Alas, Hizzoner’s more interested in pleasing the politically powerful ultra-Orthodox community, which resists scrutiny of its yeshivas and asserts its religious-freedom rights.”
The New York Daily News ran a similar editorial this month in which it it described the investigation as a “shonda” — Yiddish for scandal.
“There’s two sides to every story,” de Blasio told reporters. “We have 15 schools where we went in, a lot of work was done, clearly there was room for improvement but I have to be straightforward and say there’s room for improvement in a lot of traditional schools, too.”
YAFFED recently launched a lawsuit alleging that an amendment written by State Senator Simcha Felder, who represents heavily Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn, unconstitutionally exempts yeshivas from the same oversight as other, non-religious, schools.