‘Horse-trading’ at City Hall over yeshiva curriculums not criminal: report

Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo by Mark Hallum

There was no quid pro quo — at least on education standards at City Hall.

A city probe found that representatives of the de Blasio administration and state legislators delayed an interim report on the Department of Education’s own inquiry into educational standards at yeshivas in order to receive renewed support for mayoral control of the city’s schools.

Even so, the joint investigation — conducted by the Department of Investigation (DOI) and the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) — could not conclude if Mayor de Blasio personally authorized  “political horse-trading” to delay the report. The inquiry did reveal that the mayor was aware that an offer to delay had been made.

After learning about the agreement to delay the report, according to the investigation, de Blasio spoke with at least one state senator and Orthodox Jewish leaders about concerns over yeshiva oversights and its connection to mayoral control. 

A witness told DOI and SCI was asked to delay the report, which was scheduled to be released in the summer of 2017 until April of the following year. But DOI and SCI could not confirm that the any official agreement was made with the city. 

Even so, the de Blasio administration said Wednesday that the probe exonerated them of wrongdoing.

“There’s no ‘there’ there, as evidenced by the finding of no wrongdoing,” said Freddi Goldstein, the mayor’s press secretary, in a statement. “In fact, the DOI report accurately identifies why this process has taken so long, including ever-changing State regulations and the difficulty of gaining access to some schools. We will continue to work to ensure all New York City students receive a quality education.” 

In response to complaints from alumni and parents of yeshiva students, the DOE began its investigation into curriculum deficiencies at 39 schools in 2016. The following year, DOE officials met with representatives from the yeshivas to schedule visit to eight schools from March through May 2017.

In May 2017, the inquiry revealed, the DOE stated that they expected to issue an interim report to the NYSED on the status of the investigation by that summer. By June, the DOE had only visited six of the eight schools. 

In October 2017, the DOE negotiated with the yeshivas’ attorney to schedule nine more visits that ultimately did not occur until November and December of that year, according to the report. The delay was due to religious holiday observances. 

The next summer, the DOE issued an interim report to the New York State Education Department stating that 15 yeshivas had been visited. 

That fall, the report stated, the remaining 13 visits were scheduled by the DOE, and the final visit occurred this past spring.

The report ultimately concluded that the agreement had no real impact on the inquiry’s delay or conclusion, and that nothing criminal had occurred. 

The city is currently finalizing the full report on educational standards at orthodox yeshivas and will release it later this week, a spokesperson from the mayor’s office said. 

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