• Chaim Levin

Open Letter to NYS Education Department

The Lie that is being used to defend failing ultra-orthodox Yeshivas:

Dear NYS Department of Education,

As we near the end of the public comment period for enforcement of the substantial equivalency guidelines for non-public schools, it is important that you are made aware of some undisputed facts about certain ultra orthodox yeshivas like the one I attended until the age of 15.

There are many comments, statements and articles being published by people who wish to defend the status quo of Yeshivas and other non public schools and their lack of oversight by the Department of Education. I can’t help but notice a certain dishonest theme in many of these statements, and in certain cases this dishonesty seems intentional and not accidental.

While there are indeed many yeshivas who do a great job at educating their students in both secular and religious studies, there are quite a few schools who are failing at both. Though it’s easy to think that just a few schools out of hundreds or thousands may seem like a small number, they actually represent thousands of Hasidic children who are not learning how to function and survive in today’s society. The practical consequences for graduates of these schools are severe and overwhelming. When students attend school everyday for 6 days a week but can’t spell their own name or formulate a simple paragraph in the English language, something is wrong, someone is failing those kids.

YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education) is a nonprofit group that has successfully raised awareness about the educational crisis facing students in several ultra orthodox schools.

The school I attended for my formative years is still very much in existence today and has about 2,000 students yearly. This school, Oholei Torah, was among a list of 39 yeshivas that were singled out by Yaffed (Young Advocates for Fair Education) as one of the problematic schools. What makes this school unique is that unlike many of the institutions on the list, Oholei Torah does not even pretend to provide a secular education and they are very proud of this fact. Many schools on the list have been reported to allot at least 90 minutes of “English” with most students reporting that these lessons were a waste of time in which they did not learn anything, but the school I attended does not even do this, they don’t even pretend to follow the law, they are brazenly and proudly flouting the law and have been doing so since its founding over 60 years ago.

A few weeks ago, my friend Shulem Deen pointed out the hypocrisy of the current situation quite well: “New York’s ultra-Orthodox community has now shamefully and misguidedly set up the battle lines on this issue. Agudath Israel of America, the premier advocacy group for ultra-Orthodox interests and which is run by a cadre of college-educated professionals (who would never dream of allowing this sort of educational neglect of their own children), has chosen, with extreme moral cowardice, to cover for the worst practices of some of their co-religionists. Through a misinformation campaign, marshaling of disingenuous (and often mendacious) voices of so-called “successful yeshiva graduates,” and recruiting unsuspecting allies, legal permissions are now being sought to enshrine such educational neglect as an unchallenged norm.”

Indeed, many of the people defending these Yeshivas would never send their children to such an institution. It is sad but not surprising though that in an effort to be “right” against perceived “outsiders” like the brave Naftuli Moster and others, they are defending this human rights travesty instead of standing up for the basic principle that every single child deserves a proper education.

While it may seem like the voices of those defending the status quo are louder than those of us trying to change it, please try to realize the magnitude of what we are up against. Certain special interest groups have used a campaign of misinformation and fear to mobilize thousands to submit public comment against the enforcement of the guidelines in question. Please do not fall for this ruse; listen to the voices of children who desperately need your help and advocacy right now, give them a chance to succeed and self determine their own futures with the basic foundation that is a proper education.

I urge you to enforce the laws that have been on the books for over a century. Those of us pushing for more oversight are not asking for the law to be changed, we are asking for the law to be enforced.

Thank you,

Chaim Levin

If you attended a private school in New York State, please submit a comment in support of these guidelines to ensure that every single child in this state has access to a full and proper education. It takes two minutes and you can do it using this link: https://www.yaffed.org/eduregulations

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