Statement From PEARLS on NYC DOE Letter

Leadership of PEARLS (Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools) speaking at City Hall, Thursday. At the microphone is Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel.

For the past three years, New York’s orthodox Jewish communities have been forced to endure a relentless campaign of slander against their schools and way of life.

Today the City’s Department of Education transmitted its findings to the State Education Department. The letter confirms that YAFFED’s allegations against the yeshivas have no basis in fact. To the contrary, the city’s letter cites one example after another of our yeshiva children receiving a rich education.

The state must now recognize this matter for what it is: An attempt to usurp parents’ rights to select the best education for their children – particularly if the schools in question are located in orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. It is time to end this assault on our community once and for all.

The DOE found YAFFED’S allegations of substandard education to be false. DOE officials visited 15 of the 30 schools listed in YAFFED’s complaint, and found quality teaching and learning environments in those schools.

The DOE’s investigation also established that YAFFED’s complaint involved at most 30 schools, not the 39 that were previously cited, and that after interviewing the complainants it turned out that they had first-hand information about only 11 of those schools.

Any suggestion that the yeshivas were less than cooperative in arranging the remaining visits is false. We have spent endless hours working with the DOE to address YAFFED’s attacks on our yeshivas. We facilitated visits to 15 schools and repeatedly offered to arrange more. DOE is more than welcome to see any of our classrooms and witness the extraordinary education we offer our children.

Significantly, the yeshivas visited by DOE to date have been those with the largest enrollments. Specifically, the 15 schools visited educated more than 13,000 students, while the remaining eight elementary schools have an aggregate enrollment of only 3,000.

That means that DOE has visited schools with more than 80% of the students in all elementary schools listed in YAFFED’s complaint.

It is not the city that is mostly at fault here. YAFFED’s tiny group of media-savvy activists ginned up the debate by disseminating information that few bothered to fact-check. They released a report on secular education at the yeshivas that many cited as a credible source – even though its findings were based on a survey of the YAFFED founder’s Facebook friends.

YAFFED’s caricature of a backward culture deliberately keeping its children ignorant played into awful stereotypes about the orthodox communities. Years of hard work by civic leaders to combat such prejudices were undermined by the controversy.

There are more than 425 yeshivas in New York, educating more than 165,000 students. Of those, more than 275, with approximately 115,000 students, are in New York City. The schools not yet visited by DOE educate a small fraction of those students.

We remain proud of our yeshivas, our students, teachers and entire community and continue our commitment to the belief that parents deserve the right to choose the best education for their children.

PEARLS is comprised of families, educators, religious leaders and community members. It works to educate the public and raise awareness of the importance of the yeshiva school system and its benefits to the communities it serves.

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