June 4, 2019
The fight for substantial equivalency for non-public schools made its way to the Board of Regents meeting in Albany this week. Naftuli Moster, Executive Director of Young Advocates for Fair Education, discussed what he hopes to see the State do next to ensure substantial equivalency.
Nancy Cutler, Rockland/Westchester Journal NewsPublished 3:33 p.m. ET May 31, 2019
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks with The Journal News Staff in White Plains March 18, 2019. Carucha L. Meuse, firstname.lastname@example.org
The New York State Education Department announced proposed regulations Friday for academic instruction at nonpublic schools, less than two months after its guidelines with similar goals were blocked by the State Supreme Court.
The issue focuses on enforcing state law requiring that secular studies at private schools — like math science, English and history — be “substantially equivalent” to what’s taught in public schools. Concern has been most focused on certain ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish yeshivas that advocates have reported fail to meet the law or prepare their students for employment and a solid economic future.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia initially issued new guidelines in November that were meant to update previously issued regulations for enforcing the law. But the court ruled in April that the Education Department failed to follow its own procedure for such specific changes.
The Education Department is classifying the effort as a change to regulations, not just guidelines. The path to new regulations includes a public comment period — lacking in the original process.
“Nonpublic schools are an important part of the educational landscape in New York State,” Elia said in a statement. “With the regulations, we will ensure that all students — no matter which school they attend — have the benefit of receiving the education state law says they must have. By following the State Administrative Procedure Act process, we are addressing the Court’s concerns.”
Some advocates had been pushing the state to adopt emergency regulations to enforce the “substantial equivalency” law, rather than launching a lengthier process. Naftuli Moster, the founder and executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education, or YAFFED, said in a statement that the state was playing into the hands of groups that resist oversight of yeshivas.
“Instead of acting quickly to implement emergency regulations, NYSED has chosen a lengthy process which all but guarantees that in the 2019-2020 school year, tens of thousands of children will continue to be denied the education to which they are entitled by law,” the New City resident said.
Yeshiva education activist Naftuli Moster, who has been the topic of a lot of criticism and praise for his work with YAFFED, a nonprofit that’s pushing the state to ensure secular education is provided in yeshivas, discussed his work outside Rockland County Court House June 12, 2018 in New City. (Photo: Tania Savayan/The Journal News)
Also at issue is the state’s plan to allow inspections by the public school district to take place by the end of the 2022-2023 academic year. “That’s like saying ‘when you get around to it, but no rush,’ ” YAFFED responded.
The education equivalency issue mostly impacts New York City and the East Ramapo school district, which has scores of yeshivas in their boundaries.
Rockland Legislator Aron Wieder, D-Spring Valley, has been a strong critic of such oversight. Wieder, who is Hasidic, represents parts of Spring Valley. He has asserted that Elia “has bought into the narrative that is being peddled by people who have left the Orthodox community and only have hatred towards our community.”
The issue has caused much attention in New York politics. In 2018, the state budget was nearly derailed when Sen. Simcha Felder, D-Brooklyn, demanded language be inserted into the budget that would influence the way the state considered curriculum at certain yeshivas.
The proposed regulations more specifically spell out the ability for a private school to challenge the enforcement process in an effort to include “due process.” The guidelines also allow “for integrated curriculum that delivers content by incorporating more than one subject into the content of a course.”
The proposed regulations drop references to state learning standards; rather, the guidance language will focus on instruction in subject areas required by law.
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(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of Citizen Truth.)
“Some people leave precisely because they have been deprived of an education, and they feel betrayed.”
As public school education has become increasingly secular over the years, private religious schools have pushed back by focusing their curricula on more intense religious studies, often at the expense of instruction in secular subjects.
While the role of religion in schools has been a controversial topic since the early days of the American education system, the divide over the role of religion in education seems to be widening. One of the most obvious examples of the conflict can be seen in the educational institutions of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where instruction in secular subjects is almost non-existent.
Schools that Don’t Educate
According to activists Citizen Truth spoke with, students at some of these ultra-orthodox educational institutions don’t even know that dinosaurs once walked the earth, or that one of the bloodiest wars in human history occurred as a result of the battle over slavery.
This knowledge is essential to be a rational, reasonable member of modern American society, which is what education in the United States is supposed to prepare its youth for. By denying these aspects of education to their students, ultra-Orthodox schools and other conservative religious institutions are not only doing these children a disservice; they are declaring war on modernity and reason.
Ultra-orthodox Jews are also known as Haredi, which can also be translated from Hebrew as “anxious.” This extremely conservative sect of Judaism is characterized by its anxiety towards the outside, non-Jewish world: fear of assimilation, doubt regarding scientific principles and complete trust in the religious leader of one’s specific community, known as a rebbe.
Throughout this article, the words ultra-orthodox and Haredi will be used interchangeably. However, remember that the majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the United States belong to Hasidic sects, which is an even more conservative group of communities within the larger Haredi community. All Hasidic Jews are part of the larger Haredi movement, but not all Haredi Jews belong to Hasidic communities.
Advocating for Fair Education
One of the groups leading the fight in support of better educational practices in Haredi religious institutions is Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED), whose executive director is Naftuli Moster.
Moster was educated in an all-male Haredi school or yeshiva in Borough Park, Brooklyn, which is one of the epicenters of ultra-orthodox culture in the city. He decided to start YAFFED after realizing how incomplete the education he and his friends had received at yeshivas and other ultra-orthodox schools actually was.
Moster is quick to point out that “receiving a Judaic education has its benefits. It’s not like lying in bed and doing absolutely nothing. But it’s no substitute for a secular education that includes English, math, science, and social studies.” Religious instruction may have its benefits, but only if it is properly integrated into a curriculum that also includes subjects like science, math and history.
YAFFED, PEARLS and a Battle Over Education
YAFFED recently released a 90-page report entitled Non-Equivalent: The State of Education in New York City’s Hasidic Yeshivas which gave a detailed account of the amount of time spent on secular studies in ultra-Orthodox schools. The report also provided comprehensive data on the government funding that yeshivas receive and included recommendations from the New York City Department of Education and the New York Department of Education.
YAFFED and other concerned groups have made repeated attempts to remedy the massive problems existing in religious educational institutions in New York. But the attempts at legislation by the New York State Education at YAFFED’s behest have been met with strong legal and political opposition, and as a result, have failed.
At the forefront of the opposition to YAFFED and similar groups is a group called Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, or PEARLS. Though the name makes allusions to freedom in education, it’s essentially a pro-Yeshiva organization created to oppose YAFFED and stop any government initiatives to improve education in ultra-Orthodox schools. To date, they have spent nearly one million dollars in their effort to prevent students at Hasidic schools from having access to secular knowledge.
PEARLS has friends in high places. The public relations firm who represents the group is Global Strategy Group, one of the most sought-after public relations firms in politics. They have assisted many prominent American politicians, including former New York governor Elliot Spitzer and current governor Andrew Cuomo. One of the leaders of PEARLS, Rabbi Isaac Sofer, is also a former fundraiser for current New York mayor Bill de Blasio. Given that Cuomo and de Blasio are some of the most prominent politicians charged with regulating the educational practices at Haredi institutions, this cozy relationship should be at least somewhat troubling.
Ultra-Orthodox Community’s Political Clout
Yeshivas are male-only education institutions, and since the intended goal of a yeshiva education is to become a rabbi, these schools offer less secular instruction than their female-only counterparts. As a result, girls educated at ultra-Orthodox schools tend to have an easier time as they transition to adulthood and attend college or join the workforce.
Moster also points out that these girls are no less Jewish or Orthodox than their male peers. He explained to Citizen Truth that “this goes to show that you can provide a full Judaic and secular education without compromising one or the other.”
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Don’t let ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas get away with this: A judge must rule for the state as it seeks to ensure basic educational equivalence in non-public schools
As early as Friday, a judge may decide whether or not the New York State Education Department can proceed to enforce new guidelines for religious and private schools. These guidelines are designed to make sure that private schools are meeting the legal requirement to provide an education that’s “substantially equivalent” to public schools. Sounds reasonable, right? Not to the unholy trinity of yeshivas, Catholic schools and inexplicably some elite private schools, like Brearley and Packer Collegiate, which are suing to prevent any oversight whatsoever.
Until recently, New York State did not enforce its own education standards. And while many private and Catholic schools pride themselves on providing a high quality education that’s even superior to public schools, the consequences have been devastating for students in Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox yeshivas.
In 2015, our group, Young Advocates for Fair Education (Yaffed), filed a complaint with New York City alleging educational neglect in hundreds of Hasidic yeshivas. That neglect has deprived approximately thousands of ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic children of a basic education. In our experience, on average a Hasidic boy receives just 90 minutes of secular instruction in elementary and middle school and no secular instruction at all in high school. The results are damning. The Hasidic neighborhoods in New York State are among the poorest in the state and even the country.
The city has been pathetically slow to act, and so the state stepped up to revise its guidelines in an attempt to clarify them for local authorities tasked with determining and enforcing the substantial equivalency standard. On Nov. 20, 2018, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia released the revised guidelines, which triggered vitriolic opposition from Hasidic yeshivas and their supporters.
The guidelines do not differ significantly from previous versions. They require the teaching of the basics, such as English, math, science and social studies.
Catholic and other non-public schools would easily pass any substantial equivalency test, but instead they’ve rallied to the defense of the ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas, which make no secret of the fact that they haven’t and won’t provide their students with a full secular education.
It’s mind-boggling, because most of the non-Yeshiva schools would barely face any scrutiny at all. Registered high schools go through a more rigorous review by the state in order to be eligible for Regents diplomas, so they would be exempt from an additional substantial equivalency review. Accredited schools, including the majority of private schools, would be subject to only a cursory review, as the district’s substantial equivalency review will take the accreditation determination into consideration. But some Yeshivas, the worst offenders no less, are fighting to remain completely independent from government scrutiny, even as they receive millions in federal, state and local subsidies. Some Hasidic Yeshivas’ budgets are covered two-thirds by government funding, and only one third from tuition.
Even a full review can hardly be considered intrusive. Superintendents or their designees must visit all non-public schools once within the next two to three years and once every five years thereafter. As part of that visit, local officials would look at the instruction being done in the schools and would also collect documentation that demonstrates adherence to the guidelines.
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Nuftali Moster founded Young Advocates for Fair Education, the group that sued the city’s Department of Education in a push for more secular instruction in yeshivas. Credit: Bryan Thomas for The New York Times
In parts of New York City, there are students who can barely read and write in English and have not been taught that dinosaurs once roamed Earth or that the Civil War occurred.
Some of them are in their last year of high school.
That is the claim made by a group of graduates from ultra-Orthodox Jewish private schools called yeshivas, and they say that startling situation has been commonplace for decades.
Over three years ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration opened an investigation into a lack of secular education at yeshivas that serve about 57,000 students in the city, but the probe essentially stalled almost as soon as it began. The reason, advocates say, is the city’s politicians, including the mayor, are fearful of angering the Orthodox Jewish community that represents a crucial voting bloc in major elections.
Then the state stepped in with the most significant action yet in the probe. MaryEllen Elia, the state education commissioner, released updated ruleson Nov. 20 dictating how nonpublic schools like yeshivas are regulated and what students in those schools should learn, with consequences for schools that do not comply.
The guidance could force yeshivas to change how they operate and what they teach. It will also hold Mr. de Blasio’s feet to the fire, as his administration is forced to ramp up its investigation into the schools.
“There’s no time to waste,” said Naftuli Moster, the founder of Young Advocates for Fair Education, which pushes for more secular instruction in yeshivas. “New York City has already been dragging its feet for three years.”
The city’s yeshiva probe began in 2015, after Mr. Moster’s group filed a complaint claiming that scores of students — boys, in particular — graduate from ultra-Orthodox yeshivas unprepared for work or higher education, with little exposure to nonreligious classes like science and history. Instead, some yeshiva graduates say, students spend most school days studying Jewish texts. Younger boys sometimes attend about 90 minutes of nonreligious classes at the end of the day, a city report found.
A coalition of prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis and community members have accused critics of yeshivas of attacking religious freedoms.
“This is a smear campaign against our community and what it stands for,” said David Niederman, a rabbi and the president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg. “If some people are not happy with what they are taught, it is up to them to take action.”
Avi Schick, a lawyer for Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, a group formed after the 2015 investigation was opened, said, “The intrusive set of requirements imposed by the state demolishes the wall between church and state that politicians have hid behind for decades.”
This past summer, the organization, known as Pearls, handed out 10,000 posters and bumper stickers emblazoned with the hashtag #ProtectYeshivas to parents of children in Orthodox Jewish schools.
The state’s guidance places the burden of investigating the schools on Mr. de Blasio’s administration.
City officials are now required to visit all nonpublic schools by the end of 2021 — which will coincide with the end of Mr. de Blasio’s second term — and visit each school every five years after that. If officials find that the schools are not providing an education that is “substantially equivalent” to what public schools offer, the city can give schools more time and resources to add secular teaching. If that does not work, the city can withhold some funding it provides private schools.
In an interview, the city schools chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, said that he had requested training for Department of Education employees who will visit the schools, and that he would prioritize visits to a half-dozen yeshivas he claimed have barred city officials from entry. After that, he plans to send staffers to several dozen other yeshivas that were listed on the 2015 complaint as having insufficient secular education.
This is going to be a robust kind of a visit, and a robust looking into all the nonpublic schools,” Mr. Carranza said. “The mayor has made it really clear from Day 1 for me that he wants us to move aggressively and get this taken care of.”
Though complaints about academics have focused on New York City’s yeshivas, the guidance applies to all nonpublic schools in the state, which has raised alarm bells for other groups.
“We remain gravely concerned over the process, which will likely lend itself to an inconsistent and subjective review of many schools,” Jim Cultrara, the director for education at the New York State Catholic Conference, said in an interview.
The mayor’s handling of the yeshiva investigation will now be monitored not only by the state, but also by those concerned about Mr. de Blasio’s recent dismissal of Mark G. Peters, the former Department of Investigations chief.
After he was fired, Mr. Peters confirmed that his department was looking into whether City Hall interfered with the city Education Department’s inquiry into yeshivas in an effort to maintain ties with the Orthodox community. The issue has since been elevated, and there is a question of whether the mayor sought to tamp down probes into his own administration.
Mr. de Blasio’s pick to replace Mr. Peters, Margaret M. Garnett, was already quizzed at a recent City Council hearing about whether she will continue the probe into City Hall’s handling of the yeshiva investigation. She said in an interview with The Times that she would not “tolerate or accept interference” in any queries involving the mayor.
Advocates for more secular education in yeshivas found reason to celebrate last month, when Democrats seized a commanding majority in the New York State Senate.
The Senate flip robbed Senator Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, of an enviable swing vote that he used last year to add protections for yeshivas in the 11th hour of state budget negotiations. Young Advocates for Fair Education, Mr. Moster’s group, has sued the state over the so-called Felder amendment, calling it unconstitutional.
Mr. Felder, who represents Orthodox enclaves of Brooklyn, declined to comment.
Still, enormous obstacles remain for those who want the city to shine a spotlight on yeshivas.
Few if any politicians in Albany or downstate are willing to anger the Orthodox political establishment. Urgent problems in the city’s 1,800 public schools — including ballooning student homelessness and entrenched racial segregation — will take precedence over issues in religious schools that the city does not run.
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The New York Education Disgrace – The Ultra-Orthodox Children, State Sponsored Indoctrination and What If?
LostMessiah, 16 October 2018
If a Spanish speaking community wanted to set up its own schools where everything was taught in Spanish, no English (or minimal English) and where the children were not taught Evolution, Mathematics or subjects demonstrably able to give them a chance going forward, we would be horrified. If they demanded government funding (for computers and busing), it would be unequivocally denied. In fact, the more racist among us would be claiming that they are raising future drug-runners.
If a Muslim community want to live by Shaaria law (as opposed to a Va’ad or Beit Din (Rabbinical Court)), wanted to have their children taught in mosques and wanted to teach in Arabic only, we would have no part of it. The State would not even entertain the proposition. Not only would we probably be shutting the entire endeavor down, no matter how innocuous it all would likely be, we would be undoubtedly claiming that they are raising future terrorists, members of ISIS, suicide bombers; and they would likely be on every government watch list available.
If the Korean communities that teach their children mostly in Korean, teach versions of Christianity mixed with a heavy weight of teaching their children English, Science, Math, Music and other well-rounded subjects, wanted to stop teaching English and wanted to raise their children only speaking Korean and living by a different set of rules, we would not allow their schools to remain open and certainly not assisted with government funding.
And yet, here we are accepting (if not advocating for it PEARLS) a substandard education where children may be taught to reason using the Socratic Method of understanding Mishnah and Gemorrah (Jewish Texts) (maybe), but are not taught to work out a mathematics problem beyond grade 7. Here we are accepting the premise that because children are taught basic math through the numerological understanding of the Torah and its meanings, that it is enough. Here we are accepting, even entertaining a misleading claim that somehow 15 hours per day of religious education is enough to survive in a world (where others like secular Jews, non-Jews and others are supporting them). Somehow, we are accepting this Yeshiva double-standard? WHY?
If you don’t teach science, how will your 15 children be born? Who will treat an ear infection? What if the rest of us stopped accepting your business?
The children attending these ultra-Orthodox, insular and radicalized schools are taught to understand Jewish texts, a bastardized version of Yiddish spoken within their communities, and basic skills. They are given lessons in sexual education when they are old enough to procreate and not before. In nearly all cases they are not taught to assimilate. To the contrary, even a Jew not raised in that community is not “really a Jew.” In many cases they are taught the ways of the elders (namely how to survive by bilking the system (think Medicare and Medicaid). In some cases, they are exposed to sexual abuse and taught that to report is a “Moser” and therefore a sin. The children are wholly and completely indoctrinated.
And, may the truth be told if tomorrow the rabbis started to teach these children the lessons of radical Islam which Martyrs people willing to die for a cause, or any other radical belief system that many of us find so abhorrent, these children would listen. Why? Because they know nothing else. If the ultra-Orthodox community woke one day and wanted to weaponize their children, there would be nothing to stop them from doing so. In fact, in Israel there are communities where this is already happening. Children are being taught by Rabbinic leaders to throw stones, attack people who don’t keep the Sabbath, create chaos. Is this so far-fetched that it could happen stateside? And when do the lines get crossed from throwing stones to throwing bombs? What if?
FIGHTING MOSTER: PEARLS Brief Defends Parents’ Rights To Choose Yeshiva Education
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