YESHIVAS UNDER INVESTIGATION

Three years ago, the city launched a probe into several ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools after parents, former students and teachers complained about the quality of education they were providing. City officials were denied access to half of these Yeshivas. Now, the city is asking the state for guidance on how to deal with this sensitive issue. We’ll explore the latest developments.

Aired on August 23, 2018.

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.

WE BEGIN TONIGHT WITH THE RENEWED SCRUTINY FACING A NUMBER OF THE CITY'S JOSHIVAS, WHETHER THEY'RE PROVIDING AN ADEQUATE EDUCATION ON SECULAR SUBJECTS, INCLUDING ENGLISH, SCIENCE AND MATH.

THE CITY NOW CLAIMS HALF OF THOSE SCHOOLS ARE REFUSED ENTRY TO EDUCATIONAL OFFICIALS MAKING IT IMPOSSIBLE TO EVALUATE THEM.

THE INVESTIGATION WAS LAUNCHED IN 2015, AFTER A GROUP OF PARENTS, FORMER STUDENTS AND TEACHERS COMPLAINED ABOUT THE STANDARD OF EDUCATION THERE.

SINCE THEN, MAYOR DE BLASIO HAS BEEN RELATIVELY QUIET ABOUT THE FINDINGS, PROMPTING CRITICS TO ACCUSE HIM OF SLOW-WALKING THE PROBE.

NOW IN A LETTER TO THE STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER, RICHARD KA TH ANZA EXPRESSED, QUOTE, SERIOUS CONCERN ABOUT THE LACK OF ACCESS, AND ASKED FOR GUIDANCE OVER WHAT TO DO NEXT.

JOINING ME NOW TO BREAK IT DOWN IS BEN MAX.

WELCOME BACK TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU.

SO AS I SAID IN THE INTRODUCTION, THIS PROBE BEGAN THREE YEARS AGO, COULD YOU ELABORATE A LITTLE BIT ON HOW IT ALL GOT STARTED?

SO AS YOU INDICATED, IT WAS A LETTER SENT TO THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, THE CITY FROM MORE THAN STAKEHOLDERS, PARENTS, TEACHERS, FORMER STUDENTS OF JASHIVAS ASKING FOR AN INVESTIGATION AND MAKING ALLEGATIONS ABOUT THIS LACK OF SECULAR EDUCATION TO WHAT WAS THEN STILL A RELATIVELY NEW MAYOR, A YEAR AND A HALF IN OFFICE, MAYOR DE BLASIO AT THE TIME.

WE RECENTLY FOUND OUT THAT 15 OF THESE 30 SCHOOLS IN QUESTION HAVE NOT ALLOWED THE CITY TO COME IN AND INVESTIGATIE.

NOW, THERE'S WORD ABOUT MAKING AN BOAPPOINTMENT TO GO VISIT.

WHY DOES THE CITY NEED THE OKAY FOR THESE SCHOOLS FOR THEM TO GO IN?

DOESN'T THAT DEFEAT THE PURPOSE?

IF I TELL YOU I'M INVESTIGATING YOU ON TUESDAY, YOU'RE TOO PREPARED?

I WAS ACTUALLY A HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER BEFORE I BECAME A JOURNALIST.

IF THEY TOLD YOU WHEN YOU'RE GOING TO COME IN AND EVALUATE YOU, YOU HAVE A LOT OF DIFFERENT APPROACH TO WHAT THAT'S GOING TO LOOK LIKE, THAT'S A MAJOR QUESTION AROUND THIS INVESTIGATION THE FACT THEY'RE SETTING UP APPOINTMENTS AND DOING ANNOUNCED VISITS AS OPPOSED TO UNANNOUNCED SO WE CAN IMMEDIATELY QUESTION EVEN SOME OF THE FINDINGS OF THAT.

BUT AS YOU INDICATED FOR THIS TO BE THREE YEARS SINCE THE COMPLAINT AND ONLY HALF OF THE SCHOOLS HAVE BEEN VISITED, REALLY RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT WHETHER THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND CITY HALL HAVE BEEN SLOW WALKING THIS INVESTIGATION.

TALK ABOUT THAT.

THE ACCUSATION IS, AS I SAID, THAT, YOU KNOW, MAYOR DE BLASIO WAS A LITTLE LEARY OF UPSETTING A BIG BLOCK OF VOTERS, WHICH IN THE PAST HAS SUPPORTED HIM.

I'M TALKING ABOUT THE ULTRAORTHODOX JEWISH COMMUNITY, THEY VOTE FOR HIM, AND WHOSE CHILDREN GO TO THESE SCHOOLS.

WHAT'S THE TRUTH?

DID HE SLOW WALK IT BEFORE THE NOVEMBER ELECTION?

WE DON'T HAVE ANY CONCRETE EVIDENCE THAT HE TOLD ANYBODY TO SLOW DOWN, WE H L WHERE HE'S SAYING YOU SHOULD SLOW WALK THIS.

WE DO KNOW THAT CERTAINLY THIS UPDATE ON THE ISSUE HAS COME AFTER HE WON A SECOND TERM.

HE'LL BE TERM LIMITED OUT OF OFFICE.

HE MAY NOT RUN FOR ANYTHING AGAIN.

SO THERE'S A LOT LESS VULNERABILITY FOR HIM TO UPSET WHAT IS A POWERFUL VOTING BLOCK THAT HE'S BEEN VERY CLOSE TO IN THE PAST AND HE'S ACKNOWLEDGED THAT HE'S WORKED WITH THIS COMMUNITY QUITE A BIT IN THE PAST AND HE ACTUALLY THINKS THAT THAT GIVES HIM A GOOD PERSPECTIVE FOR BRINGING PEOPLE TO THE TABLE, HAVING COMMUNICATION.

HE'S ACTUALLY BROUGHT FORTH THIS NEW INFORMATION, AND HE CLAIMS THERE'S SIGNS OF PROGRESS HERE BECAUSE SOME OF THE SCHOOLS THAT WERE VISITED HAVE AGREED TO CONTINUE TO IMPLEMENT A NEW CURRICULUM THAT'S BEING DEVELOPED AND WORK ON THE SECULAR EDUCATION THAT TRE SO HE SORT OF EXPRESSED CONCERN ABOUT THE FACT THAT THEY COULDN'T GET INTO SOME OF THE SCHOOLS, BUT ALSO TRIED TO --

HOW DID HE DIRECTLY RESPOND TO THE ACCUSATIONS THAT HE SLOW WALKED IT FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES?

HE DISMISSES THAT.

I DON'T THINK ANYBODY WATCHING CLOSELY WOULD THINK THAT HE'S HAD A SENSE OF URGENCY HERE.

WHILE WE MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO DEFINITIVELY PROVE THAT HE ORDERED ANYBODY TO DO ANYTHING MORE SLOWLY THAN THEY OTHERWISE WOULD HAVE, IT'S TAKEN A VERY LONG TIME TO GET WHERE WE ARE NOW.

THEY RELEASED THE REPORT AFTER A LOT OF ACKNOWLEDGING THAT IT HADN'T BEEN RELEASED YET AFTER EXPECTATIONS WERE RAISED THAT IT WOULD BE.

AND THERE'S CLEARLY A LACK OF URGENCY ON THE MAYOR'S BEHALF.

HOW DOES THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, HOW DID THE RANK AND FILERS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, HOW HAVE THEY REACTED, OR RESPONDED TO ALL OF THIS?

WELL, WE DON'T GET A LOT OF INSIGHT INTO HOW, YOU KNOW, FOLKS WHO WORK AT THE DOE FEEL ABOUT CERTAIN THINGS, UNLESS THERE'S A WHISTLE BLOWER.

WE HAVEN'T HEARD?

WHAT WE DO KNOW IS THE NEW CHANCELLOR HAS TAKEN ON TOUGHER ISSUES IN HIS RELATIVITY YOUNG TENURE, LIKE SCHOOL DESEGREGATION ACROSS THE CITY THAT WERE MUCH MORE PUSHED TO THE SIDE UNDER THE PRIOR CHANCELLOR.

BUT AGAIN, THIS WAS ALSO MORE IN THE MAYOR'S FIRST TERM.

SPEAKING OF THE CHANCELLOR, HE WROTE THAT LETTER, A 14-PAGE LETTER, ASKING FOR GUIDANCE FROM THE COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION, THE STATES COMMISSION.

FIRST OF ALL, THAT'S KIND OF UNUSUAL, ISN'T IT, FOR SOMEBODY FROM THE DE BLASIO ADMINISTRATION TO ASK FOR GUIDANCE?

IF YOU WANT TO PUSH THE BUCK OFF A LITTLE BIT, THAT'S WHAT YOU DO MAYBE, THERE ARE, OF COURSE, STATE GUIDELINES IN PLAY HERE, THAT'S WHAT THEY'RE INVESTIGATING IN THE FIRST PLACE, WHETHER THE SCHOOLS ARE MEETING STATE LAW.

ONE OF THE OTHER THINGS IN PLAY IS THAT THE LAW WAS RECENTLY CHANGED IN THE STATE BUDGET THROUGH AN AGREEMENT LED BY ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL STATE LAWMAKERS WHO MAYOR DE BLASIO HAS HAD TO WORK WITH IN BROOKLYN BEFORE.

ONE THING THE CITY IS LOOKING FOR IS NEW GUIDANCE FROM THE STATE THAT REFLECTS THE NEW CHANGES IN LAW WHICH MANY PEOPLE HAVE SAID EASES UP ANYMORE IN TERMS OF OVERSIGHT AND WHAT QUALIFIES AS A SUBSTANTIALLY EQUIVALENT EDUCATION.

HAS THE STATE RESPONDED TO THE LETTER?

THEY HAVE NOT RESPONDED IN DETAIL.

WHAT REALLY -- REALLY WHAT'S NEEDED IS 'A,' MORE INFORMATION ABOUT WHEN THOSE SCHOOLS THAT REFUSE TO ALLOW VISITORS IN, WHEN THEY WILL ALLOW VISITORS IN.

AS YOU INDICATED, ONCE THE LETTER WAS MADE PUBLIC SOME OF THOSE SCHOOLS SEEMED TO BE COMING AROUND.

THAT'S, OF COURSE, GETTING BACK TO THE POINT OF WHY DID THE DE BLASIO ADMINISTRATION WAIT SO LONG TO PUT THAT KIND OF PUBLIC PRESSURE, NAMING THE SCHOOLS THAT WEREN'T GIVING ACCESS?

SO WE NEED TO KNOW WHEN THOSE SCHOOLS WILL BE VISITED AND WHEN THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT IS GOING TO PROVIDE MORE.

WE HAVE LESS THAN 30 SECONDS.

WHAT'S YOUR BEST GUESS?

WHERE WILL IT GO FROM HERE?

IT WILL CONTINUE TO MOVE VERY SLOWLY.

IT'S NOT SOMETHING THE MAYOR REALLY WANTS TO DEAL WITH, SOMETHING THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION THAT HAS 1,800 PLUS SCHOOLS TO DEAL WITH REALLY WANTS TO TAKE ON.

YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT OBVIOUSLY MAJOR CHALLENGES WITH WORKING WITH A COMMUNITY THAT DOESN'T OFTEN WANT TO WELCOME IN OVERNIGHT.

ALL RIGHT, WELL, BEN, THANKS SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

WE'LL SEE HOW THIS PROCEEDS.

THANK YOU.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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