Got any report cards sent home with no grades assigned for secular subjects? Any textbooks, purchased with government dollars, in which teachers have slapped stickers over unapproved subjects? Hand ‘em over, says an advocacy group pushing to raise the quality of secular education in Hasidic schools.
The group, Yaffed, is holding an “evidence drive,” asking graduates of Hasidic yeshivas and parents of current yeshiva students to dig up materials that can help make the case that Hasidic schools in New York aren’t meeting state-mandated secular education standards.
In the process, Yaffed is hoping to spur on an ongoing city investigation into Hasidic schools that the group believes is dragging. The group will also hold a press conference about lack of progress in the New York City Department of Education’s investigation on the steps of City Hall on April 6.
“We feel that the Department of Education has been going about this whole investigation all wrong,” said Naftuli Moster, Yaffed’s founder and executive director, of the DOE investigators. “They could have done something like this [evidence drive] to collect the kind of evidence we’re collecting.”
A spokesperson for the DOE did not respond to a request for comment on Moster’s criticisms of the investigation.
Moster said that his group has already collected examples of textbooks with certain subjects “blacked out,” and report cards for boys older than 13 with “no secular subjects at all.” He said that he hoped yeshiva graduates and parents would come across materials while cleaning their houses for the Passover holiday.
DOE officials initially agreed to investigate Hasidic schools last summer, in response to a public letter from Yaffed. Since then, the group has been agitating for rapid action by the city. Yet Yaffed’s leadership now fears that the city’s DOE is dragging its feet.
Moster said that he agreed months ago to arrange a meeting between investigators and former yeshiva students, and has been waiting since January 22 for a DOE investigator to follow up.
The DOE has publicly wavered on whether its investigation will consist solely of questionnaires sent to the heads of Hasidic schools, or will also include site visits. In October, the New York Jewish Week reported that a schools official said that investigators would visit yeshivas to “partner with these programs” and to “offer support.” And in March, the Patch reported that the DOE had not yet distributed its questionnaire to yeshiva heads.
“It’s becoming clearer and clearer that they’re not taking the investigation seriously,” said Moster, who made the Forward 50 in 2015. “There have got to be unannounced visits, there have got to be serious inspections.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.