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Dromm emerges as ally in fight for secular education in city Yeshivas

By Gabriel Rom

In recent weeks, City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) has emerged as one of the few public officials pushing the DOE to fully investigate allegations that 38 yeshivas in Brooklyn and one in Queens may be breaking the law by neglecting secular studies.

To date, Dromm is the only member of the Council to make a public statement supporting the investigation.

In late July, Dromm, chairman of the Council’s Committee on Education, met with Naftuli Moster, the founder of YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education), an educational advocacy group founded by individuals raised within the ultra-Orthodox communities of New York City.

“Naftuli Moster’s story is a very powerful one,” Dromm said, “especially in this country, where everyone is supposed to get an adequate education. I am involving myself because morally, I believe that I must.”

Days after the meeting, YAFFED released a complaint to city education officials signed by more than 50 parents, students and teachers from 39 yeshivas, alleging that subjects such as science, history and English-language study were virtually absent for elementary school boys and completely absent from education for high-school students.

That same day, Dromm sent a letter to Richard Cordon, the special commissioner of investigation for the New York City School District at the city’s Department of Investigation. In the letter Dromm said, “Education advocates have brought to my attention troubling allegations that a large number of students do not receive adequate instruction in the appropriate subjects. The most upsetting of these alleges that older children are essentially denied any kind of secular education.”

Three days later Condon responded, saying he had referred the matter to the DOE general counsel and that the DOE would undertake “specific steps” to “investigate and address” the allegations about the yeshivas.

“The councilman didn’t just sit by and say he would support us,” Moster said. “He took action and that’s something no one else has done so far.”

Norman Siegel, YAFFED’s lawyer, sees in Dromm, who spent 30 years teaching in the public school system, a genuine ally in the fight for better education for yeshiva students.

“This is a very controversial issue and it appears that many elected officials want to look the other way, and to his credit the councilman isn’t. We’re very pleased, but we’re not surprised,” Siegel said. “I’ve known the councilman for many years and I think he is a person of principal. He speaks up when he thinks there is an injustice.”

Dromm speaks of his involvement as one of simple civic duty.

“I have a legal obligation to report and to ask authorities to further investigate allegations of illegal activity,” he said. “Yeshivas that do not offer an education equivalent to that of public schools—which includes teaching secular subjects until the age of 16—are violating the law. Everybody knows that.”

According to the DOE, as part of its investigation a set of requests will soon be sent to the yeshivas. School superintendents will then consider the responses and determine whether the yeshivas are following state guidelines. If the responses are not adequate to make that determination, superintendents may, among other options, visit the yeshivas.

Siegel said that until YAFFED’s recent petition, its overtures to city and state officials received little response.

“Amidst all this silence, having a councilman say what he said on the record is wonderful,” Siegel said.

Harry Hartfield, a spokesman for the DOE said, “the city takes its responsibility to address any complaint seriously.”

He added, “Everyone is held to the same standard and there is zero tolerance for the kind of educational failure alleged.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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