What’s in the investigations of 18 Haredi schools found to be providing inadequate secular education

See the documents that detail the investigation and its findings

Yeshiva Oholei Torah of Chabad. Credit: Mo Gelber/Shtetl

Jul 5, 2023 5:20 PM


Eighteen Haredi yeshivas are failing to provide adequate secular education, according to the long-awaited results of an investigation released on Friday by the New York City Department of Education.

At issue is a question of whether the schools provide an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that available in public schools. The results of the investigation, which launched in 2015, were released as letters and statements from DOE officials. Chancellor David Banks wrote detailed letters to the principals of four of the schools detailing the investigation, including the finding that they are not providing substantially-equivalent education. The other 14 schools found by the DOE to be “not substantially equivalent” did not receive such letters; rather, according to a DOE statement to members of the press, due to a special state law passed in 2018, jurisdiction of those schools falls to the state, and so they are being handled separately.

Seven other schools were found to provide substantially equivalent education, including five that got that designation automatically because of their associations with high schools registered with the state.

Readers can access the letters here.

Cover letter of the DOE report

The four schools that the city described in detail as failing to provide adequate secular education are all Hasidic boys’ schools in Brooklyn. They are:

  • Yeshiva Bnei Shimon Yisroel of Sopron, a school for boys aged 14-16 associated with the Sopron Hasidic sect;
  • Yeshiva Kerem Shlomo/Bobover Yeshiva Bnei Zion, a high school associated with the Bobov Hasidic sect;
  • Yeshiva Oholei Torah, which provides education through eighth grade and is associated with the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect;
  • Yeshiva Ohr Menachem, which provides education through eighth grade and is associated with the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect.

As part of the investigation, administrators from the DOE sat in on classes, met with school leaders, and reviewed curricula and other school information.

Officials found that no instruction took place in the English language at two yeshivas, Yeshiva Bnei Shimon Yisroel of Sopron and Yeshiva Kerem Shlomo/Bobover Yeshiva Bnei Zion. Bnei Shimon Yisroel of Sopron did not submit lesson plans or other materials that would demonstrate instruction in English, math, science, or social studies. Kerem Shlomo was found not to provide any instruction at all in more than a dozen subjects, from civics to fire drills.

Two Lubavitch schools discussed in detail – Oholei Torah and Ohr Menachem – did provide instruction in English, but failed to address many key subjects. Administrators did not find evidence of any of the following subjects being taught at either school, in any language: reading, writing, spelling, U.S. history, civics, geography, New York State history, or hygiene.

The city told the schools that they have 60 days to work with the DOE to begin making plans to reach substantial equivalence no later than the end of the next school year.

Not much is yet known about the 14 other schools found by the DOE to be violating state education standards, including which schools they are. The city determined that they should have their final status determined by the state, under the so-called “Felder amendment,” a 2018 law named for state senator Simcha Felder, who proposed it, which sought to shift certain evaluations to the state instead of local school districts. Felder, who is Haredi, held up passage of the state budget that year until his amendment was approved.

The investigation was triggered in 2015 by a complaint about 39 yeshivas, submitted to the DOE by YAFFED, a group that advocates for secular education in Haredi yeshivas. Naftuli Moster, who founded YAFFED in 2012 and led it until 2022, is today the founder and CEO of Shtetl.

“The thoroughness of the reports was very refreshing,” said Beatrice Weber, the executive director of YAFFED. She said she hopes that the schools that were found to be substantially equivalent could serve as a model for others.

“People think substantial equivalency will ruin Hasidic schools, but actually, that’s not true; some passed, because it is possible,” Weber told Shtetl in an interview on Monday. “I hope that once the whole hullabaloo passes, this provides some comfort and reduces the antagonism around making these changes.”

Response from the Haredi world to the investigation results has been critical. Principals of the four schools that the city found inadequate and named did not respond to emails from Shtetl requesting comment. However, Richard Bamberger, a public relations strategist who represents PEARLS, a group that advocates for Haredi yeshivas, provided a statement to The New York Times.

“Utilizing a government checklist devised and enforced by lawyers may help explain the state of public education,” Bamberger told the Times. “It is designed to obscure rather than illuminate the beauty and success of yeshiva education.”

Agudath Israel of America, a Haredi advocacy organization, said in a statement that the report didn’t include enough positive aspects of yeshiva education. “Yeshiva graduates are steeped in moral values. Their minds have been trained to think critically and creatively,” Agudah’s statement says. “While these items may not appear on any government checklist, they are critically important educational qualities, at least to the parents who send their children there.”

DOE press secretary Nathaniel Styer seemingly anticipated such criticism in a statement accompanying the results. “As always, our goal is to build trust, work with the community, and ensure schools are in compliance with state education law and regulations,” he said. “Our goal is to educate children, not to punish the adults.”

As we review the documents in detail at Shtetl, we’ll update this article with findings we think are particularly noteworthy. Here’s what we have so far:

  • Five elementary schools were automatically deemed substantially equivalent because of their associations with high schools that are registered with the state – including when the high school does not admit students from that elementary school. For example, Kehilath Yakov was found to be substantially equivalent because it is associated with the high school Bnos Yakov of Pupa, even though the former is a boys’ school and the latter is a girls’ school, such that no students actually attend both schools.
  • At least one yeshiva may have attempted to avoid the investigation by claiming to have closed, while simply changing its name. The letter to Kerem Shlomo, a school which was found not to provide a substantially equivalent education, states that the DOE received an email from advocacy organization PEARLS in 2020 asserting that “Yeshiva Keren [sic] Shlomo is no longer in operation,” along with a screenshot of a school registration database showing that a school by a different name, Bobover Yeshiva Bnei Zion, was established at that address in the summer of 2019. This led the DOE to assert in its letter to Kerem Shlomo, “this is not sufficient evidence of school closure, and, instead, may indicate that Yeshiva Kerem Shlomo changed its name to Yeshiva Bnei Zion.”

Shtetl will update this story as we review the documents.