‘Horse trading’ but no crime seen in Jewish school probe

December 18, 2019 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) — Two watchdog agencies have concluded that New York City officials engaged in “political horse trading” over a report into the quality of secular education at certain ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools but did not break any laws.

Investigators with the city’s Department of Investigation and the office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation said in a report issued Wednesday that they hadn’t identified any criminal conduct, or any other legal violations by Mayor Bill de Blasio or his representatives.

The two agencies had looked into delays in a city Department of Education probe into whether the private, ultra-Orthodox schools were providing an education equal in quality to one provided by public schools, as state law requires. That investigation started in 2015 and has still not been concluded.

Critics charge that students at many of the ultra-Orthodox schools, called yeshivas, barely learn to read and write in English, and they say that the mayor’s close relationship with the Orthodox community has kept his administration from prodding the schools to teach English, math and other secular subjects.

The report by the two investigative offices found that representatives for de Blasio, a Democrat, agreed in 2017 to delay an interim report on the yeshivas in return for certain lawmakers’ support for extending mayoral control of the schools. But the investigation found that the agreement had no substantial effect on the progress of the inquiry, which was “mired in delays for several years because of a variety of factors.”

Those factors included disputes over scheduling investigators’ visits to the yeshivas and the city’s “collaborative approach” to those disputes, the investigators said.

Naftuli Moster, the executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education, or YAFFED, a group that formed to push for secular instruction at Orthodox schools, said the report “shows the city is willing to trade away the education of tens of thousands of students for power and political influence.”

But de Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said,“There’s no ‘there’ there, as evidenced by the finding of no wrongdoing.” She added, “We will continue to work to ensure all New York City students receive a quality education.”

Mayoral control of New York City’s 1.1 million-pupil public school system, first won by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002, has come up for renewal by the state legislature several times since then and has at times been used by lawmakers as a bargaining chip.