Jewish Group Says City Has Reneged on Yeshiva Investigation

By Zolan Kanno-Youngs (Wall Street Journal)
April 6, 2016

A Jewish group pushing for stronger secular education at New York City’s yeshivas on Wednesday accused the city’s education department of not conducting a promised investigation into the matter.

Last summer, the group, Young Advocates for Fair Education, asked education officials to review whether 39 Orthodox Jewish schools are adequately instructing students in English, math and science. New York state law says that private-school education must be at least equivalent to that of public schools.

Norman Siegel, a civil-rights lawyer representing the Jewish group, said the education department promised an investigation that would be finished by spring. “Not only do we think it’s not completed, we’re starting to think it never began,” he said outside City Hall on Wednesday.

The Department of Education referred a request for comment to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. There, a spokesman said that the department’s investigation of the schools “is active and ongoing,” adding that “the assertion that DOE has not sent requests for information to schools is inaccurate.”

Yeshiva leaders didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Standing among parents and former yeshiva students, Mr. Siegel said that boys in the Orthodox schools don’t receive English instruction past the age of 13. At earlier years, he said, they receive about 90 minutes a day, four days a week.

Young Advocates for Fair Education has said that female students typically get a better education at the yeshivas.

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a Democrat who represents Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, said the yeshivas are committing sexual discrimination as a result. She expressed her concerns to Mr. de Blasio in January, she said, but never received a response.

“People are always a little bit leery of the religious communities, and they tread softly,” she said. “As New Yorkers and Americans, we are respectful, but that respectfulness should not result in ignoring what is now clearly a problem.”

Mr. Siegel accused the mayor of not pushing education officials because of the influence of the city’s Orthodox Jewish community.

“Elected officials, they don’t want to touch this issue because they want that vote,” he said. “At the expense of who? At the expense of thousands of young Jewish boys.”

Chaim Levin, 26 years old, a former student at Educational Institute Oholei Torah, a Brooklyn yeshiva, said he worries that his nephew, a current student there, isn’t receiving a sufficient education. “Everyone has a right to learn the basics, and we were not given that right,” Mr. Levin said. “This hasn’t changed, and I want to know what people are going to do about it.”

Oholei Torah didn’t respond to a request for comment.

—Leslie Brody contributed to this article.