ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 150

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NYC says 18 yeshivas failing to teach secular subjects in accordance with state law

After eight-year probe, city’s Department of Education report finds private Hasidic schools don’t provide ‘substantially equivalent’ education to public schools

Illustrative: A man walks by school bus with Yiddish signage in Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York City, January 1, 2014. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: A man walks by school bus with Yiddish signage in Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York City, January 1, 2014. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

After an eight-year investigation, New York City’s Department of Education released a report Friday that found 18 private Hasidic schools failed to properly teach students secular subjects such as English and mathematics in accordance with state law.

According to the report, which also probed the teaching of science and social studies, four of the yeshivas “were determined to not provide a substantially equivalent education” that met the criteria laid out in New York State law. The department said its findings were based on at least one visit to each school and reviews of their curriculums.

It recommended the education provided by the other 14 schools be declared “not substantially equivalent” by New York State, which has jurisdiction over them.

Another five schools that were investigated were found to provide an education that is sufficient under state law.

The Department of Education (DOE) said it would work with the schools determined to not be in compliance to formulate and implement a remediation plan to meet the state’s legal education standards, which they will have 1-2 years to do.

“For any school found not to be substantially equivalent, according to the strict state law and regulations, the DOE stands ready to support the school to becoming substantially equivalent,” spokesman Nathaniel Styer said in a statement.

He added that most schools worked with the department but some “were uncooperative with the DOE’s review.”

“Our goal is to educate children, not punish adults,” Styer added.

Illustrative: A Jewish area of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City, on April 24, 2019. (Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images)

The probe into the schools was opened after a 2015 complaint in which a group of yeshiva graduates and parents alleged that their schools were not teaching secular subjects.

“Eight years ago, brave graduates of Hasidic yeshivas came together to submit a formal complaint about the education they received. This complaint, and the investigation that followed, is the first of its kind in New York. Because of their belief in their own potential, and in the promise of an education, the reports released today will make history,” Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED), the activist group behind the complaint, said in response.

“The arc of history is long, and it bends toward justice,” it added.

New York State mandates that all children in non-public schools receive instruction that is “substantially equivalent” to education at nearby public schools. The definition of the term, and the law’s enforcement, have been a source of ongoing controversy surrounding the yeshivas.

Critics of the yeshiva system say the schools fail to provide adequate instruction in secular subjects, including English and math, leaving graduates unprepared to enter the workforce.

Proponents of the system say students are well educated, in class longer than public school students each day, and that government meddling is an infringement on religious protections.

New York politicians who have courted the Orthodox Jewish vote, including former mayor Bill de Blasio, have been accused of turning a blind eye to yeshivas for political gain.

As of 2020, there were around 160,000 students studying at about 450 yeshivas in New York State. YAFFED has projected that by 2030, 30 percent of Brooklyn schoolchildren will be ultra-Orthodox, nearly all of whom study in yeshivas. Non-public New York schools receive hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding.

Luke Tress and JTA contributed to this report.

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