Meet Shaindy Weichman, a mother whose son attends a Hasidic Yeshiva in New York. Like the other 65,000 boys attending such Yeshivas in this state, he’s a victim of educational neglect by the schools that are legally obligated to provide him with a basic secular education.
But the reality that Shaindy is forced to contend with as a parent – that her son is not being taught any English, math, science, and social studies curriculum in the yeshiva he attends – is not for her lack of trying.
Almost seven years ago, in the summer of 2015, Shaindy and 50 other Yeshiva graduates and parents filed a complaint to the New York City Department of Education. In it, they asserted that across New York City, dozens of Hasidic yeshivas do not provide their students with a basic secular education. Their complaint was based on the New York State law which clearly states that all non-public schools must provide its students with an education that is “at least substantially equivalent” to the education provided in public schools.
At the time of the complaint filing with NYSED, Shaindy’s son had just turned nine years old. In the elementary school yeshiva he was attending, he received a maximum of 90 minutes of English and math instruction, crammed into the end of an 8-hour long school day.
Far from taking heed of the immediacy and detriments that the complaint outlined, NYSED repeatedly stalled opening up and following through on an investigation into the yeshivas listed in the complaint.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. A year after the investigation began, Shaindy met with education officials in person where she once again outlined the problem. But her plea once again fell upon deaf ears.
Shaindy appealed numerous times to the New York City and State Education Departments, and she even spoke at the New York City Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) meetings multiple times. Why all this energy, all this effort when it seemingly did nothing to change the educational system to which her son was being subjected? It all comes down to a mother’s deep love and care for her son; a mother’s will to do everything in her limited power to better the life, and future, of her child.
It may seem like the obvious question to ask, “Why doesn’t Shaindy simply pull her son out of this failing school?” Well, ask the judge who presided over her four-year-long custody battle. She ordered Shaindy’s son to remain in the yeshiva he was attending, despite acknowledging that he was being denied the basic instruction he is supposed to receive by law.
Shaindy’s son is now fifteen. The yeshiva he attends for high school denies access to all secular education altogether. It does not provide any English education; it does not provide any math education; it does not provide any science, or social studies education. Shaindy does what she can to supplement her child’s insurmountable learning gaps, like spending money on private tutors, and encouraging him to utilize the Khan Academy online educational resource.
But she knows this is not enough. She knows this is not enough to fulfill her son’s dream of becoming a business owner. She knows this is not enough to bolster his untapped art and music talents. And she knows this is not enough to bolster his passion for politics and business.
The New York State Education Department may now be making strides to improve non-public school education, but they will never be able to make up for lost time. Shaindy’s son will forever be harmed by a system that neglected their duty to ensure he was receiving the education to which he was entitled.
And Shaindy? She continues to be a strong advocate for her community’s right, and access, to a basic secular education. A mother for her own son, she is also acting as mother to those ultra-Orthodox yeshiva school children whose mothers cannot stand up or speak up in protection of their own children.
For Shaindy, her son, and the tens of thousands of his yeshiva-student peers, take action today by submitting public comment on the new substantial equivalency regulations put forth by NYSED. Strengthened and adopted regulations are the only way to ensure that yeshivas are held accountable, and held in compliance, with the law.