In a landmark decision, a federal appeals court has ruled that children have a constitutional right to literacy, dealing a remarkable victory to students.
The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit brought by students of five Detroit schools, claiming that because of deteriorating buildings, teacher shortages and inadequate textbooks, the state of Michigan failed to provide them with the most fundamental of skills: the ability to read.
For decades, civil rights lawyers have tried to help students and families in underfunded schools by arguing that the U.S. Constitution guarantees children at least a basic education. Federal courts have consistently disagreed. Until now.
The ability to read and write is “essential” for a citizen to participate in American democracy, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday. One cannot effectively vote, answer a jury summons, pay taxes or even read a road sign if illiterate, wrote Judge Eric Clay, and so where “a group of children is relegated to a school system that does not provide even a plausible chance to attain literacy, we hold that the Constitution provides them with a remedy.”
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Thursday, February 10, 2020
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YAFFED Statement on State Education Department’s Delay of New Private School Regulations
Today, the State Department of Education decided to seek another round of stakeholder feedback on regulations that govern the state’s oversight of private school education, including instruction at Orthodox Yeshivas. This adds yet another delay to what has already been an inexcusably long process. The following is a statement from Naftuli Moster, founder and executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED):
“New York State already conducted an extensive public engagement process, met with stakeholders and visited Yeshivas. There is no longer any question tens of thousands of students are being denied a basic education required by law. A recent New York City DOE report found that 26 of 28 Yeshivas investigated are failing to meet the very minimum threshold of substantial equivalency. And it’s safe to say there are more out there. Every day we delay enforcement is another day children aren’t receiving the skills promised to them and their families.
“Earlier today, during the commemoration of Black History Month at the Board of Regents meeting, a Frederick Douglass quote was cited: ‘Some know the value of education by having it. I know its value by not having it.’ It’s astonishing to me, a Hasidic Yeshiva graduate, to hear those words at a Regents meeting surrounded by a dozen Yeshiva lobbyists who are trying to keep tens of thousands of children from receiving the education they are entitled to by law and are granted in our state constitution.”
Comments to Rabbi Avi Shafran’s Opinion in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Below we have republished a portion of an opinion that appeared in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, written by Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel. We would like to thank the person who sent this our way, though we are certain he would not agree with our conclusions. Thankfully, there is a mutual respect for differing opinions. We thank him for that also.
There are a few points that should be made about Shafran’s opinion in JTA. The first is we believe you can criticize over-development and the draining of the public school system for the benefit of private yeshivas (and parochial schools) and still defend against anti-Semitism and resentment. The two are not mutually exclusive. While he refers to the links as “indirect” he spends an inordinate amount of time criticizing efforts to uphold educational standards, presumably albeit indirectly linking criticism to hate.
We take the position that only when these uncomfortable subjects are aired can the differences in perception (that often create resentment) be either resolved or peacefully tabled. One can agree to disagree so long as both sides can be vocal and respectful.
Second, Safran’s comments about the criticism of the substandard Yeshiva education in many (but not all) Hasidic yeshivas is, in our belief misguided. Contrary to Shafran’s opinion, a fair indictment of a school system that public money is also partially funding does not detract from defending the religious beliefs that the children who graduate from those yeshivas share. It is simply a criticism of the leadership and the political governmental system that allows the education of these kids to be neglected. If public money is being used to fund these yeshivas, even a single dollar of public tax funds, then they should comply to certain state mandates. To do otherwise is an unfair requirement on all taxpayers; and that does not even address the future tax burdens that stem from inadequate education.
If Shafran’s comments are to be taken to their extreme, then perhaps this country should allow schools for white supremacists, schools for radical Muslims, schools for the Church of Latter Day Saints, Scientologists, and an endless list, all without any oversight guaranteeing that the children have some level of conformity to basic subjects when they graduate. According to Shafran, if applied equally to all faiths, any criticism of any non-conforming schools, whatever the religious belief, is contrary to a peaceful co-existence. That is absurd. Demanding certain standards be met is not indicting an entire religious belief system. Rather, it is holding an educational system to a conforming standard. The United States is based upon a system of equality and laws should be upheld equally. For the yeshiva system in New York, equality has gone out the window.
While this post is largely the same as the article (and additional reading) posted yesterday, it cannot be understated that educational neglect in Yeshivas is a far-reaching problem. While Jews can boast a long list of Nobel Laureates, none came from a Hasidic and educationally deprived background where the children are not taught the simplest of lessons. Not all Yeshivas ascribe to system of teaching. The ones that do must be legislated out of that freedom. Children within those yeshivas don’t learn the basics and certainly do not learn advanced sciences, mathematics or civics and in the US, they cannot speak English – the language of the country. In Israel, at the very least the leg up on Hebrew comes from the religious texts. But that does not open the jail cell of illiteracy when it comes to English, Arabic and other languages taught in Israel.
In the US, the State of New York in particular, if a parent home-schools a child for whatever the parent’s reasons, and that child does not meet basic academic standards, the family can be (and IS) held to account for neglecting his or her children. Parents are charged criminally. These cases are rampant in the Courts in Rockland County and elsewhere.
New York is rife with lists of parents who have been successfully brought up on charges by school districts for improperly (or simply not) educating their children. And yet, Yeshiva children in the same or similar circumstances as that family of home-schooled children, are somehow NOT held to account for the lack of some of the most fundamental basic knowledge. Many of these children are grossly under-prepared for living in the world with others, and while that may be by design, it is most certainly unacceptable. To state that they survive “on the goodwill of others” is technically compelling a child to a parasitic lifestyle [for lack of a more accurate description], an unfair fate.
There will come a time when New York, now on its way to an ultra-Orthodox majority (anticipated to take about 20-25 years) when famed hospitals will not have enough doctors to staff them because so much of the population will be functionally illiterate. To the Israeli narrative, there will come a time when Israel will be simply unable to defend its borders. Despite significant growth in children born to the ultra-Orthodox community, there is a dramatic decline in the numbers of children enlisting in the army service, mandatory preparation to protect the Israel’s borders. The numbers indicate a disproportionate section of Israeli conscription age children who are not enlisting; and Israel has not (for political reasons) compelled its ultra-Orthodox to an equal treatment IDF obligation to the detriment of every secular child living in that country.
The US is founded upon a strict separation of Church and State. It was architected as an escape of religious tyranny. Somehow we are slowly finding our way back to religious rule. It is just a tyranny of a different kind.
Israel was founded upon the principles of a Democratic and yet theologically oriented state. It is little by little finding its way to becoming little more than the Jewish version of some of the most fundamentalist of Arab states. The big difference is that while the Koran is taught in fundamentalist Islamic states surrounding Israel, so too, is military training. Eventually Israel will be out-gunned, out-maneuvered, and quite honestly out-educated. It is a matter of time. Population growth statistics and a lack of government oversight will eventually doom Israel to the very thing it was created to prevent and those ultra-Orthodox anti-education, anti-Zionists will have themselves to blame.
To those within Israel reading this, you must exercise your right to vote or others will be voting for you.
The key to changing the tide lies in education. Jewish scripture and its interpretation speaks of education and self-sufficiency, almost demands it. Maimonides: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” Maimonides in The Guide for the Perplexed wrote: “The person who wishes to attain human perfection should study logic first, next mathematics, then physics, and, lastly, metaphysics.”
The great scholars did not write treatises on educational neglect and welfare. That should not be the messages Yeshivas in the US, Israel or anywhere else in the world should be teaching either.
According to Zwiebel, there are some 160,000 students studying at about 450 yeshiva schools in the state, and most of those schools would need to significantly alter their curriculum under the proposed regulations. A better approach, he says, is to work with struggling schools individually to improve secular education.“We have to work on those things and get them straight and do it on individual school-by-school basis rather than creating a new aggressive oversight structure that goes, as far as I’m aware, beyond that which exists in any other of the 50 states,” he said.A similar fight has been playing out in Israel, where attempts by the government to enforce general education standards on publicly-funded ultra-Orthodox schools were met with fierce pushback from community leaders and their political representatives. Some ultra-Orthodox schools in Israel receive exemptions that free them from having to provide core classes in math, science, English and other subjects. Only 12 percent of ultra-Orthodox students received matriculation certificates in the 2015-16 school year, far lower than the 77 percent of students who did so in secular and modern Orthodox schools, according to a 2018 report by the Israel Democracy Institute.As in Israel, some members of the ultra-Orthodox community in New York worry that the proposed regulations are part of a larger effort to change their way of life.“The danger is that if you try to change one thing, it will not stop there. Tomorrow you will say that we need to change our dress code, the way of our beliefs, and so on,” said Volvi Einhorn, 28, a yeshiva graduate who now works at a design firm in Brooklyn.Einhorn said that ultra-Orthodox Jews can do well professionally thanks to the support they receive from others in the community. But Steinberg says that still leaves many people working at jobs far below their potential and does nothing to help people who decide they don’t want to live an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle.“What if I happen to not want to be part of the community anymore?” Steinberg said.Under the proposed rules, private schools that don’t comply with the regulations would lose funding for textbooks, transportation and other state services. If schools don’t comply and parents continue to send their kids there, the parents could potentially face jail time. The Education Department held a public commenting period that ended in September and is currently considering whether to enact the proposal.The proposed regulations stem from a 2015 complaint to New York City’s Education Department by former students of 39 Orthodox schools who alleged that they had not received sufficient instruction in secular studies, particularly English.The letter was organized by Young Advocates for Fair Education, or Yaffed, which advocates for improved education in Orthodox schools. Its founder, Naftuli Moster, grew up attending Hasidic yeshivas in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park and says he graduated barely being able to speak English.“[The yeshivas] want to continue doing what they’ve been doing, which in our view is mass educational neglect and depriving kids of an education, subjecting them to lives of poverty and dependence on government assistance,” Moster told JTA.
New York is trying to reform the Orthodox yeshiva system, which some graduates say barely taught them to speak English
NEW YORK (JTA) — Gene Steinberg was born and raised barely an hour outside New York City, but well into adulthood he could barely speak the language of his native country.
Raised in a mostly Hasidic community 50 miles northwest of Manhattan, Steinberg, now 43, attended schools where Yiddish was the primary language of instruction. Until age 12, he received only an hour of instruction in secular subjects each day. After that, the number dropped to zero. From early morning until late in the evening, he spent his time immersed in the study of Jewish texts.
When he went to enroll at a community college at the age of 37, he was told he had to take an English class aimed at new immigrants.
“I had a conversation with the person in charge and the first question she asked me [was], ‘When did you immigrate? What year?’” Seinberg recalled. “And I tried to explain to her, I didn’t immigrate. I was born here.”
‘No Hate – No Fear’ Solidarity March Attended By Thousands From All Faiths
One speaker was noted Jewish community activist, Chaskel Bennett, who delivered a passionate speech defending the Chassidic community. In the article posted below there is a seven minute video of Mr. Bennett’s succinct remarks.
Bennett said that for every large scale attack such as Jersey City and Monsey there were also numerous small scale attacks. He stated that anti-Semitism is seen in many different forms and particularly mentioned that beyond the major incidences there were frequent and numerous occurrences. Bennett mentioned of particular concern:
1: Thugs cursing at Jews and committing knockdowns and similar random horrendous attacks on individual Jews going peacefully about their daily business.
2: Naftuli Moster, New City resident, founder of YAFFED and one of the rally’s supporting organizers for his work seeking to enforce secular education standards in ultra-Orthodox yeshivas. YAFFED’s work was said to be sowing the seeds of hatred towards Chassidim.
3: Some social media sites for spreading violent and despicable anti-chassidic bigotry on line. People were asked to call out and condemn the sites and the social media companies that host these sites.
We certainly agree with the first point made by Mr Bennett about knockdowns etc in New Jersey and elsewhere. Hopefully we will not see that type of thuggery become prevalent in Rockland County.
As to Mr. Moster, his activities should be very simple to resolve once the NY State Education Department and the government of NY State answer a very simple question as to whether or not YAFFED’s claims have validity. We believe that they do and we fully support Mr. Moster and the work of his organization. NY State monies should not be going to any institution that does not meet the standards required by New York law. If the State of New York finds that the yeshivas in question are in compliance then the matter can be closed.
As to Bennett’s criticism of social media we can only speak directly about this site. We would welcome a review of our content by New York State Attorney General Tish James and would fully cooperate with any such review.
As we have mentioned in an earlier post, to this end we have proactively written to the AG formally requesting a meeting with her to discuss any concerns she may have. We have also offered to bring several prominent people from Rockland County – about whose work we frequently write – to also meet with her as part of this review.
Finally, with regard to the social media platform that we use (Facebook) we have always successfully passed examination of our posts and will at all times continue to comply with this platform’s stated standards.
Throngs of demonstrators joined by elected officials walked solemnly across the Brooklyn Bridge in a solidarity march Sunday against anti-Semitism and all
The denial of education of Yeshiva children is a travesty of epic proportions.
Mayor De Blasio, the Mayor New York, and State reviewers are alleged to have conspired to deny children an appropriate education, an effort at assisting yeshivas in avoiding any form of mandated education for New York’s children.
The report released this week on the city’s yeshivas seemed alarming. Just two of the 28 yeshivas city officials visited met state educational standards. But on Friday, Mayor de Blasio said a lot of progress is being made, while also issuing a warning.
“All but five are going to get where they need to get. There are five that I think if they don’t make serious progress soon, they’re going to be in real danger of financial sanctions or worse,” said de Blasio.
Separately, independent city watchdogs this week said the de Blasio administration had engaged in political horse-trading, agreeing to delay an earlier, interim report on the status of its investigation… part of a deal to extend mayoral control of city schools. But as de Blasio pointed out, there was no evidence politics had played a role in the investigation itself.