Activists question NYSED's plans to enforce substantial equivalency education law in private schools
News 12 is taking a close look at renewed concerns inside some Hasidic Jewish schools in the Hudson Valley when it comes to children being taught basic subjects like English and math, now that state has promised to oversee their education.
The Jewish education activist group Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED) estimates there are 120,000 students attending Jewish yeshivas statewide in New York state.
“Every single day, these kids are going into these schools and in some, it’s getting worse,” says Beatrice Weber, YAFFED director. “We’re talking young adults, who struggle with reading English and who can’t get a job in the world.”
YAFFED believes 60-80,000 children attend private yeshivas that are non-compliant with state law, requiring children receive a substantially equivalent education to those in public schools.
The New York State Department of Education promised to crack down on private school oversight in recent years, despite intense opposition from some Satmar religious leaders. In 2022, NYSED passed a series of updated guidelines for private schools to be compliant in a 28-page document that includes instructions for approved monitoring, including state testing and an option for site visits by the local school district.
Monroe-Woodbury school administration say they have identified 10 private schools in their district with a total of 6,848 students, enough to double their enrollment.
“My concern is that we may lack the necessary resources (staff) to effectively collaborate with the ten schools within our boundaries in order to determine substantial equivalency,” says Monroe-Woodbury superintendent Elsie Rodriguez. “This process, if done correctly, will require a lot of time with no additional funding from the state.”
News 12 interviewed a Sullivan County parent about the need for oversight who said they believe their children would be taken away just for speaking out about concerns, and covered their face even though we promised not to show them on camera.
“Here in Satmar Bloomingburg is a total disaster,” the parent said. “There is zero secular education for the boys. The child thinks this is the normal way to grow up.”
Weber says many parents live in fear of retribution from the community and are unable to speak out about concerns with their schools.
“It’s almost impossible to complain. The repercussions are so harsh. This is a close community. Most people are relying on the community for housing, for jobs. They don’t have high school diplomas; they can’t get jobs on the outside, so if they change their child to another school, they risk losing their job, losing their housing and losing their social standing.”
The parent News 12 spoke to spoke broken English and said they rely on social services to support their family.
Weber says YAFFED believes hundreds of yeshivas are non-compliant state-wide and says those private schools receive federal and state education funding. She says she has concerns with how the state plans to enforce the law.
“Some schools are taking a hard stand with rabbis declaring they will not comply no matter what. At the same time, they’re taking all this public funding and telling parents, ‘send your child to us.’ The state education department is understaffed,” Weber says. “They are very sincere and want to make this happen but at the same time, they all of a sudden have to deal with this whole new workload that involves hundreds and hundreds of schools across the state.”
News 12 reached out to NYSED and a half-a-dozen Hudson Valley school districts with private yeshivas in their boundaries but no one, except Monroe-Woodubury, responded to our inquiries.