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New York Lawmakers Call for More Oversight of Hasidic Schools

Top New York officials expressed serious concerns about the quality of education at Hasidic Jewish private schools on Monday, a day after The New York Times revealed that many of the schools taught only rudimentary English and math and virtually no science or history.

Two Democratic congressmen — Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Hakeem Jeffries, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus — said they had serious concerns, with Mr. Nadler saying it was clear that some of the Hasidic schools” complete failure.”

“It is the government’s supreme duty to ensure that all children — whether those who are educated in parochial, private or public schools — receive a quality education,” said Mr. Nadler, the senior Jewish member of the government. the House, whose current district includes a large Hasidic district. “It is our duty to all New York students to ensure that the law is enforced.”

Jeffries, who represents parts of downtown Brooklyn, called for “a rigorous investigation to ensure the health and well-being of all children is protected.”

Daniel Goldman, who recently won a contentious Democratic primary for a new congressional seat that includes Hasidic areas in Brooklyn, said he hoped the schools would work to comply with the law, adding that the Times report “paints a scathing picture of an inadequate secular education that is inconsistent with state law.”

At the state level — where politicians routinely court the tight-knit Hasidic voting bloc — state Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins ​​said she was concerned about the lack of secular education in Hasidic schools.

“The allegations in the story are deeply disturbing and need to be addressed,” she said.

State Senator Julia Salazar and Councilman Emily Gallagher, both Democrats who represent heavily Hasidic Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said they were particularly alarmed by reports of corporal punishment in the schools and would introduce legislation to ban such punishments in the future.

Other leaders, including Governor Kathy Hochul and members of a powerful state education council, showed less willingness to criticize Hasidic schools.

Ms. Hochul, a Democrat who has tried to appeal to Jewish voters ahead of this fall’s gubernatorial elections, declined to take a position on Hasidic schools. She’s leading in polls, but just a year after taking office, she’s still forging relationships with key groups across the state.

“People understand that this is beyond the governor’s remit,” Ms Hochul said at an event in Harlem on Monday.

Although the State Board of Regents, not the Governor, controls the Department of State Education, Ms. Hochul is the most powerful politician in New York and can have significant influence on education issues.

Members of the Board of Regents, for their part, made no mention of the Times report in discussions Monday ahead of an expected vote on new rules that would keep private schools — including the Hasidic schools known as yeshiva — to minimum academic standards.

A lawyer who has represented many Hasidic yeshivas, Avi Schick, recently said Ms Hochul’s chance of being re-elected in November could be threatened by the regent vote, even though the governor has not taken a public position on the rules.

Other Democratic officials in New York did not respond to questions or declined to comment on Hasidic schools Monday, including Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader; Senator Kirsten Gillibrand; and Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, head of the House of Representatives campaign committee.

New York Republicans, including Representative Lee Zeldin, defended the schools and criticized the Times report. At a campaign event outside City Hall on Monday, Mr. Zeldin, who is running for governor against Ms. Hochul and is Jewish, suggested that public schools should “follow the values” of Hasidic schools, not the other way around.

Other state Republicans said they believe the government should not interfere with private religious education or parents’ ability to choose where their children are educated.

Benine Hamdan, the long-awaited Republican candidate to challenge Mr. Goldman in Brooklyn, said she was against state rules and took a shot at the critical race theory. “While public schools teach CRT and sexuality, Hasidic schools should retain the right to teach Judaism,” she said.

“At my core, I believe that all parents have the right to choose the educational environment they think is best for their children,” said Mark Martucci, a state senator who represents a district just north of New York City and added that he had traveled on yeshivas and was impressed by the students.

In a state where Republicans have been largely barred from power, the party has expanded its reach to Hasidic voters who have consistently voted for Democrats in local elections but favored Republicans, including former President Donald J. Trump, in national races.

The Times’ investigation, published Sunday, found that Hasidic schools appear to be violating state law by depriving thousands of students of primary education. The community operates more than 100 boys’ schools in Brooklyn and the lower Hudson Valley, which have received more than $1 billion in government funding in the past four years alone.

The schools typically provide secular education for just 90 minutes a day, just four days a week, and only for boys ages 8 to 12. As a result, the students are not learning secular subjects at extraordinarily high rates, The Times found. According to state data, more than 99 percent of students who took standardized tests in 2019 failed.

At a news conference on Monday, Eric Adams, the mayor of New York City, said he was “not concerned” about the Times’ findings, but emphasized that his administration was continuing a long-delayed city investigation into some Hasidic schools.

“I’m not going to watch a story. I want a thorough investigation. I want an independent review, and that’s what the city should do. And we’re going to look into that,” Mr. Adams said. The mayor added that all cases of child abuse in the schools must be reported and investigated.

In recent years, Hasidic leaders have made keeping the government out of schools their top political priority, relying on officials elected from their communities to help block regulations.

One such leader, David Schwartz, a Hasidic district leader in Brooklyn, disputed reports of problems in the schools, including regular use of corporal punishment, saying, “I and my community — tens of thousands of caring parents and educators — are being unfairly brushed over because of the bills. of a few.”

Reporting contributed by: Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Dana Rubinstein, Grace Ashford and Jeffery C. Mays.