Brooklyn-based advocacy organization Young Advocates for Fair Education, or Yaffed, has released a letter suggesting that the secular education in 39 yeshivas in the area is not up to standards and are possibly even illegal, causing New York’s Orthodox Jewish community to respond.
The group sent the letter, signed by over 50 parents, teachers and and students from 38 of the yeshivas in Brooklyn and Queens, to the Department of Education last month. The letter suggested that elementary school boys were taught very little in the subject areas of science, history or English, while high school students were not taught the subjects at all.
“Freedom of religion should not include the right to neglect a child’s future; and the obligation to ensure that children can grow up and be self-sufficient is, in fact, a fundamental aspect of the Jewish religion,” said CH Hoffman.
The letter also argued that boys over the age of 13 received no secular education, while those aged 7 through 13 only had 90 minutes of English and math each day with none on Fridays. Meanwhile, subjects such as science and history were not taught at all, the letter claimed, as secular education stops at age 13 when boys focus solely on Jewish religious texts. Girls continue to receive secular education because they do not study the Talmud.
Also mentioned was the requirement within the state Education Department guidelines that private schools offer students an education “substantially equivalent” to one they could obtain in a public school, writes Gabriel Rom for The Times Ledger.
The group is asking for the seven superintendents who run the schools to look further into the education received at each institution. In addition, they would like to see the schools receive help to improve upon the instruction in the secular studies. State law requires schools to teach English, math, science, history, and several other subjects.
The DOE reports almost one-third of students in Jewish schools to be “English language learners,” as Yiddish is the Hasidic community’s first language.
City DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield said that the department is investigating the matter and that they are currently finalizing requests to be sent to the schools asking for lesson plans and other educational materials. He added that if any district superintendent determines that a school is not providing adequate instruction, a plan will be created with the help of the superintendent.
“It’s disappointing that I’ve heard nothing from any government officials. I’ve only been informed of the probe through media reports,” said attorney Norman Siegel. I’m concerned that self-reporting is not adequate. I would suggest that they randomly make some site visits.”