Yeshiva reformers want NY Education Department to follow up on NYC probe of ultra-Orthodox schools

A yeshiva reform group demanded Wednesday that state education officials follow up on what it believes was a lax city investigation of whether seven ultra-Orthodox schools provide students with basic education in subjects like reading and math.

New York State Education Department rules require private and religious schools — including yeshivas — to offer basic instruction in some subjects that is at least substantially equivalent to what students get at public schools.

The yeshiva reform group, Young Advocates for Fair Education, alleged in a petition to the state education commissioner that seven yeshivas were determined to skirt a rigorous examination of their basic education programs in a highly anticipated city government probe.

In probes of two of the seven schools, Mayor Adams’ administration deferred to preliminary findings of investigations years ago.

The other five yeshivas were quickly approved under a policy that approves programs tied to a registered high school. Under state law, registered high schools meet standards that allow them to issue diplomas and administer Regents examinations.

“Even as we are hopeful, we need to roll up our sleeves,” said Beatrice Weber, executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education. “There is real work still to be done.”

A complaint by yeshiva reform advocates in 2015 led to the city investigation of more than two dozen ultra-Orthodox schools.

In June, the city determined 18 yeshivas were either found to fall short or were suspected of falling short of law requiring them to offer instruction in subjects such as reading and math comparable to what public school students receive.

Of the 11 schools found compliant, the advocates say seven didn’t get a real investigation. Young Advocates for Fair Education’s petition filed Wednesday was about those seven schools.

“We will follow any additional guidance from the state based on any appeals,” said city education spokesman Nathaniel Styer.

In the investigation completed in June, the city bucked its responsibility by relying on information gathered during ex-mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration in its assessment of two yeshivas, said a lawyer for Young Advocates for Fair Education.

Under de Blasio’s administration, former city schools chancellor Richard Carranza submitted findings in 2019 that he wrote “should be reviewed as directional feedback as part of an ongoing process, not as conclusions,” documents show.

“[The NYC Department of Education] should not be permitted to relieve itself of its obligations by misleading the Commissioner and the public it purports to serve,” reads the petition.

The yeshiva reform group also said determinations for the yeshivas affiliated with registered high schools do not provide detailed findings. The group alleges that “credible evidence” about a lack of basic instruction should have triggered a closer look.

A religious group that favors the status quo at yeshivas was quick to criticize the reform group’s legal action.

“Given that its purpose is to criticize and undermine yeshivas, it is no surprise that [Young Advocates for Fair Education] are targeting schools that have received the City and State’s seal of approval,” read a statement from Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools.

The state Education Department, which functions as a judge in appeals brought under state education law, declined to comment on the petition.