Dear Mr. de Blasio,
I am writing to you as a desperate mother, urging you to address a serious human rights violation happening under your watch. We live in a wonderful city, one of the most progressive and diverse in the world, with a fantastic education system for many. And yet, here I am, a mother of a boy attending middle school, and I am worried sick about the poor quality education he is receiving. I am begging you to do something to ensure that he receives an education in English, math, science, and social studies, as mandated by law.
My son is eleven years old. He attends a Hasidic boys’ yeshiva from 9 in the morning until 5:30 in the evening. You would think, with all the hours he spends in school, he would have enough time to receive both an adequate religious and secular education. This could not be farther from the truth.
His yeshiva teaches almost exclusively Judaic studies. Only 90 minutes are dedicated to secular studies, and only four days a week, and only in the subjects English and math. In his school, my son never learns about other cultures and religions or even about the history of slavery here in America. He is offered no lessons in basic science or in other core subjects. Furthermore, because secular studies take place at the end of a long and tiring school day, many of the boys, including my son, have difficulty paying attention.
All these gaps in his learning are despite my efforts to supplement his education outside of the classroom. My son speaks a little English only because I taught him. My son is reading English at a higher level than any of his classmates only because I taught him. Most of his classmates only began to learn reading in English when they were 8 years old, and they are still barely able to speak the language.
If you think this situation could not get any worse, you are mistaken. It can, and it does. His yeshiva stops offering secular studies altogether when the boys turn 13. After the next schoolyear, if you don’t intervene, he will attend yeshiva for 12 hours a day (from 7am — 7pm), and will receive no secular instruction.
All this is in blatant violation of New York State Education Law which requires nonpublic schools to provide an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools, and which clearly spells out the requirement to teach a minimum of English, math, science, and social studies, all through high school.
Now, Mayor de Blasio, I know what you are thinking: I have a choice to place my son in a different school. There are many public and private schools in our city that offer a much better general education than the one he is now receiving. But this is not realistic option for most Hasidic people for many reasons, and is especially impossible in my case.
Can you imagine how helpless I feel to not be able to give my child basic educational nourishment? There is nothing more frustrating than seeing my son’s future and potential being robbed from him because of these terrible decisions.
You see, I have done everything in my ability to care for my child since the day he was born. I am the one who dropped him off for school, and I am the one who picked him up. I always helped him with his homework and with anything else he needed. When my husband and I divorced, I continued caring for my son by trying to move him to an Orthodox school that is in compliance with the law, one that provides a solid Judaic education and also offers good secular instruction. Unfortunately, a judge has determined that his father has full decision making power over his schooling, knowing full well that he is not getting a proper education in his current school. Let that sink in! A judge, who is sworn to uphold the law, has ruled to leave my child in a yeshiva where he is not getting basic instruction, meaning a yeshiva that is in violation of the law!
How depraved is it for a mother to have to go through this? Can you imagine how helpless I feel to not be able to give my child basic educational nourishment? There is nothing more frustrating than seeing my son’s future and potential being robbed from him because of these terrible decisions.
And while my anger is largely with the judge and his poor judgement, the decision to have my son remain in his current yeshiva would not be nearly as problematic and harmful had you heeded our calls to bring all Hasidic schools into compliance with the law, ensuring that all children receive the education they deserve “irrespective of the place of instruction.”
As you probably already know, Mayor de Blasio, my situation is not so unique. There are too many Hasidic parents who feel similarly and who want to do right by their children. However, sectarian adherence is highly valued amongst Hasidic people, and the individual parents and families are terrified to speak up for fear of their children being kicked out of school or being isolated from the community. Furthermore, many believe that because our education system has been broken for so long, there is no potential for change.
This is where they are wrong. I think there is a potential for change. There is the possibility to give these boys, including my dear son, a chance to receive a proper education and a brighter future. The laws are already in place, and the city has the capacity and the obligation to enforce them. If you were willing to be courageous in the face of political risks, change would have come years ago when these issues were first brought to your attention. After all this time, Hasidic parents are feeling discouraged and deflated. Many prior promises by the Education Department to improve the yeshivas have been broken, and there are still very few signs of improvement in our schools. We have watched our government turn a blind eye and enable this injustice for too long! How is this possible under your leadership?
I implore you, Mayor de Blasio, take it upon yourself to demand justice for my son, and others like him, who are robbed of an education, of a choice, and of a future. Education is a right to which we should all have access. Regardless of race, class, or religion, every child deserves an equal education, and I expect this right to be upheld in New York City as well, starting swiftly, in the upcoming 2017–2018 school year!
A Concerned Mother