By Gabriel Rom

Young Advocates for Fair Education, or Yaffed, a Brooklyn-based advocacy organization, has caused a stir in New York’s Orthodox Jewish community after releasing a letter saying the secular education in 39 yeshivas in Brooklyn and Queens was substandard, and in some cases, likely illegal.

The group, led by Naftuli Moster, himself a graduate of a yeshiva in Borough Park, is uniquely poised to lead the fight for secular education in the insular haredi school system—a system which Yaffed argues city government has essentially left to govern itself.

The letter, sent last month to the Department of Education, was signed by more than 50 parents, students, and teachers from 38 Yeshivas in Brooklyn and one in Queens, specifically 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. Specifically, the letter alleges that in the yeshivas boys over the age of 13 get no secular education at all, while boys aged 7 through 13 get an average of only 90 minutes of English and math instruction per day, and none at all on Fridays. Other secular subjects, such as science and history are not taught, the letter says.

Citing state Education Department guidelines requiring that private schools provide an education “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools, the letter further asks the seven superintendents overseeing those schools to investigate the secular instruction at the 39 institutions, none of which have yet been named,, and help any schools they find lacking to improve their English and math instruction.

As Yiddish is the Hasidic community’s first language, nearly one-third of all students in Jewish schools are “English language learners,” according to the DOE. State law requires schools to teach English, math, science, history, and several other subjects.

Now the DOE says it is investigating. City DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield said last week that the department was finalizing requests that would be sent to the yeshivas for lesson plans and other materials. He said that if a district superintendent determines that a yeshiva is not providing substantially equivalent instruction, the superintendent will work with the school to develop a plan to fix deficiencies.

Norman Siegel, the attorney who is representing Moster and Yaffed, said he is skeptical about the DOE’s investigation.

“It’s disappointing that I’ve heard nothing from any government officials. I’ve only been informed of the probe through media reports,” he said. I’m concerned that self-reporting is not adequate. I would suggest that they randomly make some site visits.”

Siegel added that the possibility of litigation on the issue would decrease substantially if the DOE increased its level of communication with the group.

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

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