Lakewood School District Hijacked by the Ultra-Orthodox – The Kids Are Fighting Back!!


BREAKING VIDEO & PHOTOS: Lakewood High School students take to the streets in protest over teacher job cuts


Defining Education – Balancing Interests



ROBISON: How, exactly, should a ‘school’ be defined?

The complex world in which we live demands clarity in the definitions that are used, and, proper application of those definitions during the decision making process. One such case is the question of exactly what constitutes a school.

The importance of this issue is readily apparent in Lakewood, where there are now over 125 nonpublic schools, and land use laws that permit a school to placed just about anywhere. Less than one-third are listed on the New Jersey Department of Education website as a recognized or accredited school.

However, the importance of clear definitions that are properly used is pertinent to every municipality and school district. The impact of poor definitions, or disregard for clearly established definitions, on the local planning process and the taxpayers’ burden is significant.

The crux of the issue pertaining to schools is captured in the question: Does an entity that provides any form of education automatically qualify as a school or must that entity meet standards that have been developed by the state Department of Education, various statutes and subsequent court decisions?

There is a fundamental difference between a religious education center and a school. While the former is an absolutely essential element in our society, where freedom of religion and separation of church and state are cornerstones of a functioning democracy, such centers should not automatically qualify for various forms of support such as the busing of students or other state and local aid.

The religious education that occurs must be in addition to, and not in place of, the basic education that is required to be provided by a school before public support of any kind is provided. Dare I say a “thorough and efficient” education must be provided?

We must also constructively differentiate between vocational education and religious education at the secondary level. Entities such as the Ocean and Monmouth County Vocational School Districts do provide career training but they also provide basic academic training in-house or in concert with a local school district. These districts meet the compulsory education requirements.

In comparison, I submit that meeting the requirements of ordination in just about every faith requires study above and beyond the secondary level at an accredited university such as Beth Madresh Govoha or Princeton Seminary. Religious education at the secondary level and beyond, which is the choice of the student or parent, is above and beyond the compulsory education requirements established in New Jersey.

Similarly, if an applicant to a local zoning board of adjustment incorrectly defines a religious education center as a school, then the special privileges and considerations afforded to an inherently beneficial use should not apply.

The value of being treated as an inherently beneficial use must not be underestimated. It is significant. Depending on the specific wording of the local planning and zoning ordinance(s) an inherently beneficial use provides an opportunity for exceptions to established zoning standards without having to outline the positive and negative criteria that may result from the proposed project.

Zoning requirements play a major role in establishing the character of a neighborhood not to mention the market value of the land and improvements in that neighborhood. The burden of proof must rest with the entity claiming to be a school in order to be treated as an inherently beneficial use before a local zoning board.

Defining an entity as a school for either public funding or treatment as an inherently beneficial use does not create an undue burden. For example, in the case of secondary school-age children does an entity claiming to be a school issue a diploma that is sanctioned or recognized by the state? For both secondary and elementary age school children is there a curriculum that is actually implemented by a state approved teaching staff that provides basic instruction that will allow a child to advance academically and grow into a contributing member of society?

Every school board and municipal governing body has an excruciatingly difficult challenge when it comes to balancing the need to provide public services with the need to minimize tax rates. This job should not be made more difficult through imprecise definitions that lead to questionable allocations of public monies or inappropriate decisions affecting local development, which in turn generate a greater burden on municipal and school service delivery.

Frederick W. (Rob) Robison is a former borough administrator in Roselle and Atlantic Highlands. He lives in Lakewood.

East Ramapo – More Money, No Veto Power




In our view this is a sad day for Rockland County’s East Ramapo Central School District. It is a tragedy for the 8000 public school students who will be losing to the ultra-Orthodox run school board. As we see it East Ramapo is lost for public school children. The money will do nothing but fund bus transportation to the ultra-Orthodox children attending yeshivas. We cannot find fault with the ultra-Orthodox alone.

After all, the last ten years have been about voter apathy and the public school parents were in large part indifferent to the need to vote. There was an opportunity to vote in a more balanced school board this past year and it did not pass. Hopefully Elia will pay attention to what is happening and not assume that this is the end of the story.


Mary Ellen Elia     Untitled

East Ramapo Breakthrough: Monitor Without Veto Power

NEW YORK – A deal that would end years of tension in the East Ramapo school district is set to pass the state legislature on Thursday, denying the veto-empowered overseer some legislators sought.

Under the breakthrough legislation, which was agreed upon by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic-led Assembly and the Republican Senate, the district will receive an additional $3 million next year. This money is earmarked solely for the district’s dwindling public school population and will be overseen by state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

The $3 million, which will be funded jointly by each chamber and the governor, is a minute portion of the board’s overall approximately $225 million annual school budget. But the board that serves the district which comprises the Torah centers of Monsey, Spring Valley and New Square, has come under increased scrutiny as they were forced to use their limited school funds to cover required services to private schools, such as busing, special education and textbooks.

Elia, who has cooperated with the Orthodox community in crafting the compromise bill, was seen as an acceptable alternative to the appointment of a monitor with veto power, as local lawmakers and anti-Orthodox Rockland County groups preferred. She will have authority to offer recommendations on the $3 million, not the entire school budget. And the school board, whose majority of Orthodox Jews represents the district’s make-up, can override her.

Yehuda Weissmandl, president of the school board, told Hamodia that he was “very happy” with the deal reached in Albany.

“The state is acknowledging that this is not a monitor issue but a funding issue,” Weissmandl said. “Hopefully we can build on it. But nonetheless this is the beginning of a recognition by the state that this district needs more money.”

Weissmandl said that the intention of lawmakers was to add to it in coming years, eventually reaching $5 million to $6 million a year.

The deal was agreed to Monday night and will be voted on by the Senate and Assembly on Thursday. The legislature is then scheduled to adjourn for the year, unless the governor calls for them to remain an additional day.

The East Ramapo saga began ten years ago, when the Orthodox community for the first time elected the majority of the nine-member school board. While the state uses property taxes to fund the public school system, the education budget also goes toward certain services for private schools. A burgeoning Jewish population has since caused funding for those private school services, which are mandated by the state, to skyrocket.

Currently, there are approximately 23,600 private school students in East Ramapo, compared to a public school population of fewer than 8,000 students. To pay for the state mandated services to private schools, the board was forced to reduce some nonessential services to public schools, such as art and dance classes, kindergarten, and physical education.


If the Haredi are Forced to Comply in Canada, They Will Relocate to the US

sebastien-proulx-philippe-couillard-j-michel-doyonEducation Minister Sébastien Proulx




canadian flag.jpg

“Satmar community leader Alex Werzberger, whose daughters attended Beth Esther, told The CJN the school has tried and continues to try to meet the law’s requirements, but Chassidim will not compromise their religious beliefs. This means they won’t teach certain subjects, such as the mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture course (ERC) or sex education, or even certain literature or scientific theories.

“There’s no way that’s going to happen. If worse comes to worst, we’ll move to the [United] States,” he said

As for the teachers’ lack of credentials, Werzberger said: “They come from our own community. They have not gone to college, but they know English, French, math and so on. They probably know more than those who are certified.””


The Canadian Jewish News:


MONTREAL – Although some chassidic and other haredi schools are making progress in conforming to the law, at least two continue to fail to meet minimal requirements, according to a report to the Quebec education ministry by its advisory group on private education.

The 2014-2015 annual report of the Commission consultative de l’enseignement privé (CCEP), made public in May, cites the most serious problems with Beth Esther Academy and Yeshiva Gedola Merkaz Hatorah.

The CCEP recommended that Beth Esther’s permit, which was revoked in 2012, not be reissued.

However, despite pressure from the Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québec, Education Minister Sébastien Proulx has decided to allow Beth Esther and Yeshiva Gedola to continue to operate, because it is “in the interest of the children.” The government, he said in the National Assembly, will continue to work with the schools to correct the situation.

His ministry rejected the recommendation of the CCEP and renewed Yeshiva Gedola’s permit for another year, which ends this June.


Among other breaches, the CCEP said the Satmar elementary and high school for girls is not adequately teaching the province’s compulsory curriculum, known as the Régime pédagogique, in terms of either content or hours, and its teachers are unqualified.

After operating for decades under the radar, the school, founded in 1956, was told in 2003 it had to have a permit, and four years later was granted one on the condition it rectify numerous problems that the ministry identified.

In 2014-2015, Beth Esther had 304 students and 24 teachers, of whom only two held a licence recognized by Quebec.

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By LostMessiah, March 26, 2016

LostMessiah is reprinting, in its entirety, an Article from the JewishForward which was initially printed online in 2013. It is our firm belief that if we do not fight for public education, all will be lost, both for the public school children, and for the Yeshivah children, who by all accounts, should be learning substantially similar subjects as those of public school students if they are to obtain public school funding within the education system, in New York. As stories of East Ramapo, Kiryas Joel, Monsey, Crown Heights, Boro Park, Toms River, Lakewood, Monroe-Woodbury, Washington Township, Baltimore, California and numerous other places within the US have taught us, an similar problems in London, Antwerp, Israel are also teaching us, this is not happening.

We think that it is important to move toward the goal of education and of primary importance, and standards of what it means to be “substantially similar” must be met. We want to avoid inescapable poverty by those who are resistant to education beyond their own religious teachings.

The economics, at least within New York State are simply not sustainable.

A Jewish Fight for Public Education

by Amy B. Dean

September 2, 2013, The Forward

Jews hold education sacred, and for good reason. An educated citizenry is a necessary precondition for any democracy. Similarly, for Jews of the rabbinic era — characterized by, among other things, a devolution of authority to local rabbinic leaders — education and learning have become a necessary precondition for engagement in the full kaleidoscope of Jewish life.
Pirkei Avot states that the world of Judaism rests on three pillars: Torah (study), Avodah (worship), Gemilut Chasadim (acts of loving kindness). In Deuteronomy (6:7) we are commanded to “teach them diligently.” Following these teachings, Jews have prioritized studying and learning down through the generations. Therefore, it is no surprise that they have been disproportionately engaged in building the institutions of education and in promoting teaching as a professional craft. This is true for the range of educational institutions that Jews have supported: from the Yiddish folk schools of the early 20th century to the Jewish day schools that now exist in many cities and, significantly, the public education system.

Three of the past four presidents of the American Federation of Teachers were Jews: Albert Shanker, the iconic 1960s union president; his successor, Sandra Feldman, and the current AFT president, Randi Weingarten. Moreover, Jews are leading the policy debate around public education; this past February, the Forward profiled four of these leaders. And now that our public education system is under threat, it is not surprising that Jews across the country are fighting to protect public schools.

A new network of grassroots Jewish social justice organizations has emerged to mobilize around this issue. Public schools are coming under the budget-cutting blade as never before. Cities like Chicago and Philadelphia and states like North Carolina are targeting public education with school closings and mass layoffs. Jewish activists are living their faith, speaking up to demand that education be kept as a right for all.
Max Socol, co-founder of the Raleigh-based Carolina Jews for Justice, has organized weekly gatherings in front of the North Carolina state House to protest the defunding of the public school system. “Education is a core Jewish value,” he said. “We believe a robust public education system is an absolute requirement for a just society.”

Some of these groups have taken a defensive posture, mobilizing in response to budget cuts and school closings, and asking what will happen to children. In Chicago, for example, the group Jews in Solidarity and Action for Schools came together with alumni of Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, to demonstrate against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed closing of 49 schools for the 2013–14 year.

JSAS participated in a series of May demonstrations against the closings, holding up signs that said “Rahm: School Closings are a shande! What would your mother say?” The group also wrote and delivered to the mayor a letter petitioning to save the public schools, signed by more than 150 Chicago Jewish leaders, parents, teachers and activists.

The results of the fights in Chicago and Raleigh are still unknown. A judge ruled on August 15 that parents and students affected by the closings in Chicago don’t qualify for a class-action lawsuit, so the chances of halting the wave of closings are reduced. And in North Carolina, the deep cuts to education prompted the state’s superintendent of schools to issue a public statement that she is “truly worried about students.” CJJ’s members know that they face a long struggle, including organizing to unseat current Republican lawmakers, in order to reverse this troubling course of events.

There are, however, models for success in two places where Jews have taken a proactive approach to championing public education: New York City and California. There, Jewish activists have stepped forward in coalition with others to push their own proposals to safeguard public schools against future attacks.

In 2000, New York’s Jews for Racial & Economic Justice joined with a citywide coalition called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity to prevent the privatization of the city’s schools. The resulting state Court of Appeals decision in 2003 mandated that the “state must provide its children with the opportunity for a sound basic education,” according to the Education Law Center. The state came up with a formula to fully fund its schools with accountability for meeting quality standards. This funding formula effectively shields the public schools from the kind of budgetary assaults at the state level that are occurring in places like North Carolina.

In 2012 in California, the Jewish social justice group Bend the Arc in the Bay Area and in Los Angeles joined with the coalition Reclaim California’s Future to back Proposition 30. The statewide ballot initiative, among other things, actually increased funding for public education. As Bend the Arc staffer Susan Lubeck wrote in an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News shortly after the measure passed: “Within a day or two of the Nov. 6 election, headlines about the effects of Proposition 30 appeared: community colleges adding classes to accommodate 20,000 more students; U.C. taking off the table a midyear $2,400 tuition hike; parents and teachers relieved of an additional three-week public school furlough. California had backed away from its own fiscal cliff, with voters taxing themselves to further the common good.”

The successes in New York and California took sustained effort, working through grassroots coalitions to harness the power of a broad base of citizens committed to a single cause. Whether it’s achieved through the courts or the ballot, Jews have found success in working with others to build proactive solutions that safeguard the funding and structures of public education.

The work of defending public schools is an organic part of the larger, decentralized Jewish movement for social justice. Bend the Arc, JFREJ, JSAS and CJJ are uniquely Jewish organizations, providing members with an opportunity to incorporate social justice work into their Jewish practice. Though regional differences may flavor their work, it is natural that these activists are trying to safeguard the system of education that fuels our democracy. They recognize the modern relevance of an old concept: Individual knowledge and leadership skills were essential to uniting diverse tribes into a nation. And today, a system that guarantees everyone access to education is essential to a society that honors diversity and multiculturalism over family lineage, power and privilege.
Amy B. Dean is a fellow of the Century Foundation and a co-chair of Bend the Arc. She is principal of ABD Ventures, LLC, an organizational development consulting firm. She Tweets as @amybdean
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