NYC schools investigation finds several yeshivas fail to offer quality secular education

Corey Sipkin/New York Daily News/TNS

NEW YORK — Several ultra-Orthodox religious schools fail to provide students with a basic education in subjects such as reading and math, city officials found in a highly anticipated report released Friday.

The yearslong investigation into more than two dozen Brooklyn yeshivas concluded that four do not offer secular instruction: Yeshiva Bnei Shimon Yisroel of Sopron, Yeshiva Kerem Shlomo, Yeshiva Oholei Torah and Yeshiva Ohr Menachem.

The city recommended that the state find another 14 yeshivas to be noncompliant. But education officials declined to release the details of those investigations, saying that because the schools offered certain bilingual programs and extended hours, they were subjected to an ongoing review process that ends with the state education commissioner.

Another nine schools were found to follow state law, and some lower schools were automatically found compliant because of their ties to a registered high school.

Ahead of the report’s release, Young Advocates for Fair Education, a yeshiva-reform advocacy group that spurred the investigation in 2015, said Friday the years-long delay in getting the city to investigate the yeshivas amounted to educational neglect — and “represents a significant failure of government.”

“These children represent exactly the kind of vulnerable populations for whom government protections are put into place,” read the statement. “They need the power of thoughtful regulators who will deter bad actors.”

Representatives from the city education department reviewed curriculum in four subject areas — English, math, social studies and science — and visited schools and met with their administrators. Most schools cooperated with the probe, but a “small number” tried to block the review, according to education officials.

“For any school found to not be substantially equivalent, according to the strict State law and regulations, the DOE stands ready to support the school to becoming substantially equivalent,” said public schools spokesman Nathaniel Styer in a statement. “As always, our goal is to build trust, work with the community, and ensure schools are in compliance with state education law and regulations.”

Styer said the city will work with noncompliant yeshivas on remediation plans over one to two years in an effort to “educate children, not to punish the adults.”

The yeshivas quickly rejected what they called a “skewed set of technical requirements” to evaluate the education offered in their schools.

“Parents choose yeshiva education for their children because of the religious, moral and educational philosophy and approach of those who lead yeshivas,” said Richard Bamberger, a spokesman for Parents for Educational And Religious Liberty in Schools.

“They will continue to do so, regardless of how many government lawyers try to insist that yeshiva education is best measured by checklists they devise rather than the lives yeshiva graduates lead,” he added.

YAFFED submitted the original complaint eight years ago, naming dozens of yeshivas that allegedly failed to provide a secular education as mandated by state law.

For years to follow, top brass slow-walked further action. Investigators would later find that former Mayor Bill de Blasio engaged in “political horse trading” to delay a report on the yeshivas named in the complaint, in exchange for mayoral control over the city schools.

Critics have also accused Adams of cozying up to yeshiva advocacy groups while a probe was ongoing.

“You were there for me when I ran for mayor,” Adams said earlier this year, as reported by nonprofit newsroom THE CITY. “I’m going to be there for you as your mayor.”

The state finally clamped down in January with the first hard deadline for the city to complete detailed determinations and recommendations about the quality of secular instruction by the end of June, as first reported by the Daily News.

“A student who was in elementary school at the outset of the investigation would now be in high school,” said Beatrice Weber, executive director of YAFFED, in a statement Friday before the report was released. “Many of the students will soon be entering the workforce.”

“Most have been deprived of a basic education — making it exceedingly difficult to be self-sufficient. Very few have the language or general knowledge of the modern world to be able to truly navigate life in today’s world,” she added.