Mayor Bill de Blasio is facing allegations that he illegally colluded with state lawmakers representing Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox community, following last week's release of a long-awaited and allegedly compromised investigation into the quality of education at the city's yeshivas.

The new report by the Department of Education, released more than four years after it was first launched, confirmed that a majority of local yeshivas are failing to provide students with the necessary secular instruction required by state law. A separate probe released a day earlier by the Department of Investigation and the Special Commissioner of Investigation found the report was delayed, in part, due to "political horse-trading" by Mayor de Blasio.

But while the two consecutive reports suggest unethical dealing on the part of the de Blasio administration, according CUNY education law professor David Bloomfield, "both are toothless in terms of any sanctions against the mayor or the yeshivas."

On Monday, members of Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED), which first lodged the complaints against dozens of yeshivas, gathered outside City Hall to demand accountability for the "illegal collusion"—and for the thousands of young students that the city now admits are receiving a sub-standard education.

Naftuli Moster, the founder of YAFFED, said City Hall should release all relevant information about the mayor's alleged interference in the probe. As outlined in the three-page DOI/SCI investigation, representatives for the mayor agreed to push back the release of the report in order to secure support from unnamed state lawmakers for mayoral control of city schools.

“Don’t you think the public deserves to know that mayoral control of 1.1 million public children depended entirely on appeasing specific senators and yeshiva leaders by delaying this report?” Moster asked.

A press conference outside City Hall

Naftuli Moster, flanked by supporters, outside City Hall on Monday

arrow
Naftuli Moster, flanked by supporters, outside City Hall on Monday
Gothamist

Moster was joined by other pro-reform advocates, including some yeshiva graduates and parents of current students, who say the city has continued to drag its feet on ensuring yeshivas are complying with the state law.

"I have a 7-year-old son. He’s falling behind in his education because he’s in a school that's not meeting the standards," said Beatrice Weber, whose child is enrolled in Yeshiva Mesivta Arugath Habosem in Williamsburg. "Every year that goes past, he’s going to fall farther and farther behind."

(Weber married an ultra-Orthodox rabbi at the age of 18, but is now divorced; she said her son remains at the school as part of a family court arrangement).

Only two of 28 schools visited in pre-scheduled inspections by DOE investigators were found to be meeting the substantial equivalency requirements. Still, city leaders have stressed that they don't plan to take a punitive approach, and instead will seek to collaborate with yeshivas that aren't in compliance with the state law.

“This Administration believes engagement is the path to school improvement and that by working together we can achieve what’s best for all our children," said Jane Meyer, a mayoral spokesperson. She added that the city would be "requiring timelines for improvement" from relevant yeshivas by January 15th, but did not respond to inquiries about what happens if yeshivas don't meet that deadline.

"This is the start of a new phase in the process, per state guidance, in which we help schools further develop and implement plans for school improvement," her statement continued.

To that end, the DOE has urged the adoption of a yeshiva-friendly English and math curriculum developed by Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools [PEARLS]. The group has vehemently opposed reform efforts, and previously led a lawsuit against the State Education Department, alleging that a proposed review of private schools' lesson plans violated their religious liberties.

"They view these obstructors as collaborators, which is really strange," said Moster, referring to the city's pledge to work with PEARLS on reforming the schools. He called on the state to approve regulations that would flesh out the oversight process for yeshivas, noting that schools in violation of the law should face consequences, and in some cases be shut down.

"Imagine if you run a restaurant, and you get advanced notice from the Department of Health that there’s going to be an inspection on a specific day and time, and when that inspector comes you still fail miserably," said Moster. "Of course we need sanctions. People are still eating here. People are still getting poisoned."