After a New York Times investigation found that many of the private religious schools denied students a basic education, top officials voiced serious concerns.
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Top New York officials voiced grave concerns about the quality of education in Hasidic Jewish private schools on Monday, a day after The New York Times revealed that many of the schools taught only rudimentary English and math and virtually no science or history.
Two Democratic congressmen — Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Hakeem Jeffries, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus — said they had serious concerns, with Mr. Nadler saying it was clear that some of the Hasidic schools were “utterly failing.”
“It is a paramount duty of government to make sure that all children — whether it’s those educated in parochial, private or public schools — are provided a quality education,” said Mr. Nadler, the senior Jewish member of the House, whose current district encompasses a major Hasidic neighborhood and who was himself yeshiva-educated. “It is our duty to all New York students to ensure that the law is enforced.”
Mr. Jeffries, who represents parts of central Brooklyn, called for “a rigorous inquiry in order to make sure that the health and well-being of all children is protected.”
Daniel Goldman, who recently won a contested Democratic primary for a new congressional seat that includes Hasidic areas in Brooklyn, said he hoped the schools would work to comply with the law, adding that the Times report “paints a damning picture of an inadequate secular education that does not comply with state law.”
At the state level — where politicians routinely court the cohesive Hasidic voting bloc — the State Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said she was concerned about the lack of secular education in the Hasidic schools.
“The allegations in the story are deeply disturbing and must be addressed,” she said.
State Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher, both Democrats who represent heavily Hasidic Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said they were particularly alarmed by accounts of corporal punishment in the schools and would introduce legislation to ban such punishments going forward.
State law requires all private schools to provide an education comparable to what is in public schools. In 2015, New York City’s education department said it would investigate complaints about the quality of secular education in schools in the Hasidic Jewish community. Here’s a timeline of the investigation:
July 2015: Graduates of Hasidic religious schools, known as yeshivas, wrote a complaint about the poor secular education they received. Then-Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration opened an investigation into the schools, but it soon stalled, plagued by delays and a lack of cooperation from the yeshivas.
November 2018: The state released updated rules outlining what nonpublic schools like yeshivas must teach and for how long – with consequences for schools that did not comply. Hasidic leaders sued, and the rules were thrown out in court in 2019.
December 2019: The city Department of Investigation found the de Blasio administration delayed a report on the schools. A few days later, the city finally released findings: only two of 28 yeshivas that officials visited were offering a basic secular education. The investigation has not concluded, and the city has done little to follow up.
Sept. 11, 2022: A New York Times investigation found scores of schools are systematically denying children a basic education, a violation of state law that has trapped generations of students in a cycle of joblessness and destitution. Even so, The Times found, these institutions have collected more than $1 billion from city, state and federal sources in the past four years alone.
Sept. 13, 2022: The State Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve rules that would force Hasidic yeshivas and other private schools to prove they are offering basic secular instruction. The vote came after four years of tumultuous debate about how the government should regulate the schools.
Other leaders, including Gov. Kathy Hochul and members of a powerful state education board, showed less willingness to criticize the Hasidic schools.
Ms. Hochul, a Democrat who has sought to appeal to Jewish voters ahead of this fall’s gubernatorial election, declined to take a position on the Hasidic schools. She is ahead in polls but, only a year after taking office, is still forging relationships with key groups across the state.
“People understand that this is outside the purview of the governor,” Ms. Hochul said Monday at an event in Harlem.
Although the State Board of Regents, not the governor, controls the state education department, Ms. Hochul is the most powerful politician in New York and can have significant influence over education issues.
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For their part, members of the Board of Regents made no mention of the Times report in discussions on Monday ahead of an expected vote on new rules that would hold private schools — including the Hasidic schools, known as yeshivas — to minimum academic standards.
An attorney who has represented many Hasidic yeshivas, Avi Schick, recently said that Ms. Hochul’s chance of being re-elected this November could be threatened by the Regents vote, even though the governor has not taken a public position on the rules.
Other New York Democratic officials either did not respond to inquiries or declined to comment on Monday about the Hasidic schools, including Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader; Senator Kirsten Gillibrand; and Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, chief of the House Democratic campaign committee.
New York Republicans, including Representative Lee Zeldin, defended the schools and criticized the Times report. At a campaign event outside City Hall on Monday, Mr. Zeldin, who is running for governor against Ms. Hochul and is Jewish, suggested that public schools ought to be emulating “the values” of Hasidic schools, not the other way around.
Other state Republicans said they believed the government should not interfere with private religious education or parents’ ability to choose where their children are educated.
Benine Hamdan, the long-shot Republican candidate challenging Mr. Goldman in Brooklyn, said she opposed the state regulations, taking a shot at critical race theory. “While public schools are teaching CRT and sexuality, Hasidic schools should continue to have the right to teach Judaism,” she said.
“At my core, I believe all parents have the right to choose the educational setting they think is best for their children,” said Mark Martucci, a state senator who represents a district just north of New York City and added that he had toured yeshivas and had been impressed by the students.
In a state where Republicans are largely locked out of power, the party has been increasing its outreach to Hasidic voters who have consistently voted for Democrats in local elections but have begun favoring Republicans, including former President Donald J. Trump, in national races.
Published on Sunday, the Times investigation showed that Hasidic schools appear to be operating in violation of state law by denying thousands of students a basic education. The community operates more than 100 all-boys schools across Brooklyn and the lower Hudson Valley, which have received more than $1 billion in government money over the last four years alone.
The schools typically provide only 90 minutes a day of secular instruction, just four days per week, and only for boys aged 8 to 12. As a result, the students are failing to learn secular subjects at extraordinarily high rates, The Times found. More than 99 percent of students who took standardized tests in 2019 failed, according to state data.
At a news conference on Monday, Eric Adams, the mayor of New York City, said he was “not concerned” about The Times’s findings but stressed that his administration was continuing a long-delayed city investigation into some Hasidic schools.
“I’m not going to look at a story. I want a thorough investigation. I want an independent review, and that’s what the city has to do. And we’re going to look at that,” Mr. Adams said. The mayor added that any instances of child abuse in the schools should be reported and investigated.
Over the past few years, Hasidic leaders have made keeping government out of schools their top political priority and have relied on officials elected from their community to help block the regulations.
One Hasidic politician, David Schwartz, a Hasidic district leader in Brooklyn, disputed reports of problems in the schools, including regular use of corporal punishment, saying, “I and my community — tens of thousands of caring parents and educators — are unfairly being paint-brushed due to the accounts of a few.”
Reporting was contributed by Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Dana Rubinstein, Grace Ashford and Jeffery C. Mays.
New York Lawmakers Call for More Oversight of Hasidic Schools – The New York Times