Mum’s still the word at City Hall, six months after the Department of Education vowed to probe charges of substandard secular education for boys at some Brooklyn yeshivas.
And advocates are getting increasingly frustrated.
“I don’t think the DOE is doing nothing. I just think they’re not taking it seriously,” said Naftuli Moster, who founded Young Advocates for Fair Education (Yaffed), which organized the 52 former yeshiva students, teachers and parents who filed the July 27 complaint. “I don’t think they’re grasping the magnitude of the issue.”
When asked this week for an update on the investigation, DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield offered no new information, saying, “Every child — no matter what school they attend — deserves a high-quality education. We treat these allegations with the utmost seriousness, and the investigation is ongoing.”
Since the investigation was launched in August, Moster and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who is representing Yaffed, have each met with DOE officials twice and left the meetings convinced that the DOE officials in charge of the probe were “genuine” in their desire to help. But Moster questions why it took the investigators four months to meet with Yaffed or any of the signers of the complaint, and why, when the meeting did happen, they seemed to lack basic knowledge of the Jewish community, such as the difference between chasidic and Modern Orthodox schools.
“When we’re talking about an investigation of this magnitude, you need a team that really understands this community,” he said.
Siegel called the lack of transparency “exceedingly frustrating,” and also “disappointing” from a mayor who had promised increased transparency.
While Siegel said he understands that the content of the findings cannot be released until the investigation is complete, he says the process should be public.
“I think we have a right to know their timetable and whether or not they’ve met their timetable,” he said. “There needs to be transparency here; there needs to be some articulation of what they’ve done.”
The investigation began after Yaffed sent the DOE the complaint accusing 38 yeshivas in Brooklyn and one in Queens of giving boys 13 and over no secular education at all and younger boys only about six hours of English and math instruction per week. Students were taught no science or social studies at all, the letter said.
On Aug. 4, a DOE spokesman told The Jewish Week that the investigation would begin “soon” and would include sending “a set of requests” to the schools named in the letter.
In the months since, the DOE has not released any information about how the investigation would be conducted, except to say that investigators were approaching the task as “partners” rather than as investigators.
Meanwhile, it’s been 10 months since the Jewish Week submitted a Freedom of Information Law request for documents related to this issue, with the DOE sending out a form letter each month delaying the response for another four weeks.
DOE officials did not respond to requests for comment on why the request has been delayed for nearly a year.
As the months pass, Moster is still hoping the probe will be more robust than the DOE’s lack of transparency seems to suggest to him.
“I have confidence the investigation is going to happen,” he said. “The question is, how thorough is it going to be, and will they fully report what they find?”