Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED), an advocacy group committed to improving educational curricula within ultra-orthodox schools, is calling for stricter oversight from Mayor Bill de Blasio and the state education department of some of the state-funded yeshivas– Jewish educational institutions– that YAFFED alleges are failing to give students a fair and equitable education that is in compliance with the law.
YAFFED says that many of the ultra-orthodox yeshivas operating today focus solely on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and the Torah, to the exclusion of general studies education, such as learning English, that would adequately prepare students for economic sufficiency and broad access to the modern world.
“Limiting the secular education, keeping people speaking Yiddish, and not being able to speak English has made it harder for them to leave,” said Hella Winston of Jewish Week. “If you can’t communicate very well with people from the outside world then you’re pretty much hampered from engaging with them.”
“Let me be clear: These are not poorly performing schools. They are not schools at all,” said Naftuli Moster, founder and executive director of YAFFED, of the city’s Yeshivas, after the DOE investigation of 28 schools found just two provided basic secular education.
Ruth Messinger, a global ambassador for the American Jewish World Services (AJWS), called the delay political horse-trading by the mayor at the expense of those students. Rally members said the mayor delayed the investigation until after his reelection while continuing to appease the heads of the Yeshivas in the meantime.
“If he had acted in a timely manner, sanctions would have been imposed, educational options would have expanded and student rights would have been protected,” Messinger said. “Instead, the situation has gotten messier, all kinds of other groups have gotten involved and the core students and families have continued to suffer.”
However, the three-page report issued by DOI/SCI says the yeshiva findings also were delayed because of “prolonged disputes with the yeshivas’ attorney” and because of the DOE’s “collaborative approach” in dealing with the religious schools.
“The State Education Department must now step forward to protect those rights against de Blasio’s continuing misconduct and city agencies’ failure to hold him accountable,” said David Bloomfield, a professor of Educational Leadership, Law & Policy, at Brooklyn College & CUNY.
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