Former New York City yeshiva alumni, parents and past teachers last week demanded to know whether the New York City Department of Education was “really investigating” the city’s yeshiva curricula. The demonstrators protested on the steps of City Hall.
Last July, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina and seven district superintendenets in Brooklyn and Queens received a letter sent by some 50 concerned parents, former teachers, and former yeshiva students, expressing ‘concern’ over the lack of substantial secular education in at least 39 yeshivas. The letter said students at the yeshivas in Brooklyn and Queens receive only an hour and a half per day of English and Math studies, four days a week. Secular studies end at age 13 (bar mitzvah). The group was particularly upset that the boys are not prepared for college, or careers in the secular world.
The group’s attorney, Norman Siegel told The Gothamist, “I was told months ago that the investigation would be complete in Spring 2016, and now we’re questioning if there is an investigation at all.”
State law stipulates that education in non-public schools must be “at least substantially equivalent” to that provided in public schools.
In response to the letter, the DOE said it would investigation the potential violations. One of the two people assigned to the probe left the department in February. The second person is District 20 superintendent Karina Costantino. She was last in touch with “Young Adults for a Fair Education” (YAFFED) in January.
The organization was “founded by individuals raised within the ultra-Orthodox communities of New York City, and is committed to improving general studies education alongside traditional curricula of Judaic studies,” according to its website.
The department said the forms were to be sent to the private schools in their districts; responses would help the DOE determine whether violations are taking place. School visits will be scheduled if responses trigger red flags.
YAFFED director Naftuli Moster is unhappy with this state of affairs, and believes spot checks and interviews with current yeshiva students should be included in the probe. Attorney Siegel likewise comments that he grew up in Borough Park and “you learn that in the politics of NYC, insular communities are a politically powerful voting block.”
Mayoral spokesperson Austin Finan said in a statement, “The assertion that DOE has not sent requests for information to schools is inaccurate. The mayor believes strongly that every child in our city deserves a first-rate education. The DOE’s investigation of these schools is active and ongoing,” he added. “We will not comment further on an ongoing investigation.”
Siegel warned the group might end up taking the city to court over the issue.