Rockland County, NY - Hasidic Parents: East Ramapo School District Failing To Ensure Sound Secular Education For Yeshiva Students
Rockland County, NY - In a rare move, Hasidic parents in Rockland County have begun speaking out about the egregious deficiencies in the secular education curriculum at most local yeshivas. Their remarks are eerily similar: a lack of a secular education has left them financially crippled, unable to provide for their large families, or to even fill out applications for government assistance.
Despite the risk for excommunication or expulsion from their insular sects, several Hasidic parents from East Ramapo have engaged the services of nonprofit law firm Advocates for Justice, to determine how secular studies can be enhanced at local yeshivas.
Yoel Falkowitz, 35, a Satmar Hasid from Kiryas Joel and resident of Spring Valley, was one of the parents who brought his concerns to Advocates for Justice. “I’ve spoken to a large number of people and everybody is concerned about getting a better education, but they have no voice,” Falkowitz told The Journal News (http://lohud.us/1LjykyU ). He says his American-born sons, ages 8, 10, and 11 can barely understand street signs written in English. “Their secular education is deficient in every area. There is no art, history, music, science, geography. Nothing exists.”
Falkowitz gave a video interview to the Journal News you can watch it here
Falkowitz says all this is going on under the noses of the East Ramapo school district, which is obligated by state law to ensure that a private school education is “substantially equivalent” to the secular curriculum offered in public schools. His sons’ education is “a far cry from the minimum requirement by law,” Falkowitz remarked. In fact, many yeshivas do not teach the English alphabet until the students reach the age of 7 or 8. Only 90 minutes is allotted for both English and math instruction maybe four times a week at the end of the school day. By the age of 13, boys receive religious instruction exclusively, while girls, who do not study Talmud, tend to get better secular educations.
Shulem Deen, a former Skverer Hasid from New Square and author who was excommunicated from the village for breaking with traditional Jewish teachings, concurred with Falkowtiz’s assessment. Deen says that many Hasidic sects tend to only teach in Yiddish and do not prepare students with skills for a career or to compete in the job market. “My sons are in sixth, seventh and eighth grade now and they receive no secular studies at all,” Deen said. “I know many, many adult Hasidic men who are very angry. They have two, three, four children. They can’t read. They can’t write. Many of them were struggling because they had no idea how type up a basic email without a million spelling mistakes.”
Those who criticize the status quo say that the failings in secular education at these yeshivas have forced many into lives of poverty and public assistance. The Hasidic men, who marry in their late teens, even have to rely on their wives’ English prowess to help them navigate the often complication forms required for public assistance, Deen said.
“A lot of boys, men, go out scrambling to find a job, get vocational skills,” said Nafatli Moster, a former yeshiva student and founder of YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education). He said many of these communities encourage their followers to depend on government support in lieu of preparing them to obtain and hold down jobs.
Meanwhile, the East Ramapo school district finds itself in a bind. By law, the state Education Department says district superintendents are responsible for ensuring that the yeshivas provide a comparable education to that of public schools, but it does not require any testing to prove it.
“We want to make sure every child is educated to a standard that allows them to be self sufficient,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said. “A nonpublic school that is determined not to be providing substantially equivalent instruction is operating illegally,” a spokeswoman for the Education Department added.
But East Ramapo schools Superintendent Joel Klein admits, “We don’t track the specifics of their [the yeshivas] programs. We don’t have the manpower to do that.”
Daniel Shanahan, the director of funded programs for East Ramapo, said he monitors federal grants allocated to private schools and keeps track of new yeshivas that open. The yeshivas provide him with basic information “that is easy for them to send” like the number of students in the grade. “Seldom do they send us anything that is a robust curriculum,” he said, but he still supports the yeshivas right to teach what they think is proper. “We can’t be the public school bully,” he said.
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