Political considerations prompted city hall officials and state legislators in New York to intentionally delayed the release of a report about the city’s inspections of yeshivas, according to an investigation released today.
“Political horse-trading unquestionably occurred,” said Margaret Garnett, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation and Anastasia Coleman, the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District, in a joint statement of findings published today.
City officials have been inspecting 28 private Jewish religious schools due to a 2015 complaint by parents and alumni that claimed they don’t sufficiently teach secular subjects like English and math. A report about the inspections was scheduled to be released in the summer of 2017 by the mayor’s office to the New York State Education Department, but it still hasn’t been released, although that might happen this week, according to The Daily News.
Garnett and Coleman’s investigation accuses the Mayor’s office of delaying the results of the city’s inspections for political gain. They also said the investigation “did not identify criminal conduct.”
The mayor’s office tried to dismiss the results of the investigation.
“There’s no ‘there’ there, as evidenced by the finding of no wrongdoing,” said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein in a statement to the Daily News.
The investigators’ findings did not specify the benefit to lawmakers who wanted to delay the release of report. Orthodox Jews in New York opposed to more state regulation of their schools represent a powerful voting bloc, and many politicians avoid generating political opposition among them. Also, the mayor wants more control over the city’s schools, and the investigation found that City Hall representatives agreed to delay the release of the report in exchange for votes by legislators in favor of extending mayoral control over the city’s schools.
The investigation comes as the state’s Board of Regents weighs regulations changes that would bear directly on inspections like the ones discussed in the delayed report.
The investigators could not reach a conclusion about whether or not the mayor had “personally authorized” the exchange of the delay of the report for votes giving him more mayoral control, but said “the Mayor personally participated in conversations with at least one state senator and Orthodox community leaders” that indicated he “was aware that the offer to delay had been made.”
It took approximately two years for the city’s Department of Education to inspect 28 yeshivas, which the report attributes to both disputes between the city and the yeshivas’ attorney, Avi Schick, and the Department’s “generally accommodating approach” to scheduling school visits and negotiating with him.
Schick was hired by an organization called “PEARLS” that represents the yeshivas named in the inquiry. PEARLS paid $124,607 in legal fees to Schick’s firm in 2018, according to tax filings.
“PEARLS has been present at the time of those evaluations and has worked both with the school and with the New York City Department of Education in facilitating those visits, coordinating those visits, monitoring those visits,” said Rabbi David Zweibel, a PEARLS board member, in a recent interview.
While the deal between the mayor’s office and the state legislature did not affect “the substance” of the report, it did deprive the public of relevant information regarding the pace of the investigation, according to the investigators.
“The agreement did delay public awareness of the fact that the DOE had only visited six yeshivas by the summer of 2017 despite beginning its Inquiry in 2015,” said the investigators.