Calling it a “major victory for Hasidic children in New York,” an advocacy group supporting ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Yeshivas across the state is celebrating an order that has come down from state Education Commissioner Betty Rosa.
On Jan. 10, Rosa issued an order to New York City’s education department to complete its investigation of 39 Hasidic yeshivas in Brooklyn by June 30 to review what the children are being taught. Critics have long argued that the yeshivas focus almost exclusively on religious instruction, failing to teach the basics such as reading and writing.
The order requires the education department to review the schools and whether they are meeting state education standards. Around 60,000 youth attend yeshivas in New York City.
The city originally planned to complete the investigation by the end of January 2023, but last November, the city filed an affidavit to the state stating that the city needed more time to conduct school visits to review curricula and gather and evidence. The city claimed the delay was caused by new legal developments made by the state’s Board of Regents last September that changed the process for conducting reviews on the “substantial equivalency.”
“We now estimate it will take until the end of this school year to complete this investigation,” the city’s education department stated in the affidavit filed in November.
Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, pointed out how abstract the terms “substantially equivalent” could be.
“This process is absurd because State Ed. unilaterally changed the law’s definition and then screeches that Yeshivas are not in compliance with the new meaning.”
Advocacy group Young Advocates for Fair Education, also known as Yaffed, has led the legal battle to establish standard secular subjects, including English and science, in New York City yeshivas. Yaffed accuses city officials of dragging their feet and hiding behind excuses, including claiming that they’re unable to gain access to yeshiva facilities and engage with yeshivas because of language barriers.
Yaffed attorney Christopher Hazen said the commissioner’s order sets an explicit deadline that the city’s education department was never given before.
“The city gave themselves an out from an affidavit that they filed,” Hazen said. “The commissioner is making sure they’re not going to weasel out this time around.”
While “substantially equivalent” is something of an ambiguous term at face value, Hazen said, he added that the state Education Department took care to better define the term in its recent regulations as “an instructional program which is comparable to that offered in the public schools and is designed to facilitate students’ academic progress as they move from grade to grade.”
More than 50 Yeshiva graduates and parents filed a complaint in 2015 that called out 39 yeshivas in New York City for failing to provide an education “at least substantially equivalent” to that provided in the city’s public schools, as required by state Education Law Sec. 3204. In response, the city conducted an investigation on 28 Yeshivas and found that 26 of them failed to meet the state’s requirement.
Commissioner Rosa’s order follows a complaint Yaffed filed against the city’s education department in August 2022. Yaffed demanded that the city turn over all reports and remediation plans from its 2015 investigation of yeshivas suspected of educational neglect.
Yaffed filed another complaint this past October alleging that several yeshivas received over $28 million from the state and still failed to be substantially equivalent to state education standards.
amNewYork Metro is awaiting comment from the New York City Department of Education.