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Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Actions of Deputy Chancellor Karin Goldmark to Delay a Probe Into Orthodox Jewish Schools Causes Public Outrage

Deputy Chancellor of School Planning and Development, Karin Goldmark

Emails reveal Mayor de Blasio ‘abused his power’ to help stall yeshiva probe – New York Post

| May 10, 2020
Mayor Bill de Blasio was personally involved in a deal with Orthodox Jewish leaders to delay a long-awaited report on shoddy yeshivas in exchange for an extension of mayoral control of city schools, emails obtained by The Post show.
Internal emails among de Blasio and his top aides at City Hall and the Department of Education reveal that the mayor made key phone calls to the powerful religious leaders to clinch the support of two state lawmakers voting on his power to run the nation’s largest school system.
“These internal communications reveal what we suspected all along: Mayor de Blasio abused his power by interfering with the yeshiva investigation,” said Naftuli Moster, founder and executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED). The group filed complaints against 39 Brooklyn yeshivas in July 2015 for allegedly shortchanging children on secular subjects such as math, English, science and history.
The DOE launched an investigation of the yeshivas, but as it dragged on, critics charged City Hall was delaying the probe to curry favor with the Orthodox Jewish voting bloc.
Even an investigation of the mayor’s suspected interference was stalled, whistle-blowers told The Post. In response to that complaint, the Department of Investigation and the Special Commissioner of Investigation for city schools finally issued a report last December confirming “political horsetrading” on the mayoral control issue.
The report did not air the emails, however, saying “the evidence uncovered” did not show the mayor had “personally authorized” a plan to delay the yeshiva report, but was “aware that the offer to delay had been made.”
The newly unearthed emails reveal that de Blasio was far more involved in efforts to stall and shape the yeshiva findings than the DOI/SCI investigation claimed, the Post found.
In an email on June 29, 2017, de Blasio’s chief of staff, Emma Wolfe, instructed the mayor to call Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice-president of Agudath Israel of America, a politically powerful Orthodox group, and Leon Goldenberg, a longtime friend and major donor.

Wolfe told the mayor it was “urgent” that he tell the two Jewish leaders to call State Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Borough Park), and then-Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Long Island)  to “tell them to approve Mayoral control,” the email shows. At the time, Felder and Flanagan were blocking passage of the measure.
In her email, Wolfe told the mayor to warn of “consequences” if the school system reverted to being run by a multi-member Board of Education, reminding them, “I started $200 million in contracts for Pre-K in yeshivas and (Jewish) day schools,” in addition to giving yeshivas millions for busing and security.
“I will make these calls immediately,” de Blasio replied to Wolfe via his email address:

But the mayor, who is “B” in the emails, added, “I’m flying too blind here.” He asked for more information on the yeshiva issue “and what Simcha is asking for.”
Minutes later,  Karin Goldmark — then a City Hall senior education policy advisor, now a DOE deputy under Chancellor Richard Carranza — told de Blasio the city had promised the Orthodox leaders a delay in releasing a report on the 39 errant yeshivas, despite publicly promising to put it out earlier.
“We said we would not issue a report this summer (though we previously said we would),” Goldmark told de Blasio in the smoking-gun email.
The delay gave Felder more time to push an amendment to exempt yeshivas from a 1929 law requiring private schools to provide a “substantially equivalent” education to that of public schools. A watered-down version of Felder’s proposal ultimately was tucked into a budget bill in 2018.

In the same June 29 email, Goldmark also emphasized that the city would go easy on the yeshivas.
“We have made clear that when we do issue a report it will be gentle and will cite progress (assuming progress continues). We have not said that we won’t make findings, but we have gently hinted at that,” she wrote, adding “we have said we care more about high standards than about minutes on subjects.”
“Very helpful, Karin. Calling him now,” de Blasio replied at 9:11 am. referring to Zweibel or Goldenberg.
That day, state lawmakers gave final approval to a two-year extension of mayoral control.

The report by the DOI and SCI did not name Felder, Flanagan or the various aides who helped de Blasio get the Orthodox community’s blessing. 
Besides Wolfe and Goldmark, the aides included Simcha Eichenstein, whom de Blasio hired in 2015 to oversee issues affecting the Orthodox community. Eichenstein is now a state assemblyman representing Borough Park and Midwood.
Other aides in the emails: Avi Fink, deputy director for intergovernmental affairs; Howard Friedman, DOE general counsel;  and Ursulina Ramirez, chief of staff to then-schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, now Carranza’s chief operating officer.
Moster called the emails damning.
“While the mayor and DOE were saying ‘We’re taking this very seriously,’  they were worrying about upsetting powerful ultra-Orthodox leaders,” Moster said.
“The efforts to weaken and delay the scope and findings of the investigation make it clear that  de Blasio threw tens of thousands of New York City’s yeshiva students under the bus.” 
The DOE finally released a damning report on the yeshivas last December — nearly 4-1/2 years after the probe began — which found only two of 28 schools investigated provided adequate secular education to students. But the DOE did not publicly release the findings on individual schools, saying some were improving.
Zwiebel told The Post last week he recalled discussions in June 2017 about mayoral control.
“Certainly there was never any suggestion that ‘you give me support on this issue, and I’ll take care of you in this investigation.’ Whoever reached out to me was smart enough not to suggest a quid pro quo, because that would not be appropriate.” 
Goldenberg, who called de Blasio  “a friend of the entire Orthodox community,” also denied any deal.
“There was never any mention that ‘you help with mayoral control, we’ll help you with yeshivas.’ If he said that to me, I would have a serious problem.” 
Sen. Flanagan’s office did not return a message. Sen. Felder said in a statement, “The only thing I demanded was that they place an armed guard in front of every NYC public school and I’m proud of it.” 

De Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said, “The DOI reviewed the emails and made public their findings. They very clearly did not substantiate authorization on the part of the mayor.”
She would not say who authorized the discussions.

Yeshiva reform group demands resignation of top DOE official for probe delay

Selim Algar, NY POST, May 11, 2020

A top Department of Education official orchestrated the dilution of a probe into Orthodox Jewish schools for political gain and should resign, yeshiva reform advocates said Monday.
Citing a report in Sunday’s Post, Naftuli Moster said DOE Deputy Chancellor Karin Goldmark should step down after she appeared to join city officials — including Mayor Bill de Blasio — in massaging a report on questionable secular education at city yeshivas.
Emails obtained by The Post suggested that they agreed to delay and soft-pedal the investigation to secure support for an extension of mayoral school control from influential Orthodox Jewish politicians.
“Deputy Chancellor Karin Goldmark – who appears to have been responsible for orchestrating this deal to sacrifice the education of tens of thousands of yeshiva students – should be asked to immediately resign,” Moster said at a video press conference.
Moster, founder of the YAFFED advocacy group, has long accused city yeshivas of failing to provide students with basic academic instruction in favor of religious immersion.
The city and DOE launched a protracted four-year probe into dozens of yeshivas in 2015 that drew criticism from Moster and others who questioned its pace and opacity.
“We said we would not issue a report this summer (though we previously said we would),” Goldmark — then a top City Hall education adviser — told de Blasio in a June 2017 email during a discussion of mayoral control.
She then reassured de Blasio that the probe would tread lightly.
“We have made clear that when we do issue a report it will be gentle and will cite progress (assuming progress continues). We have not said that we won’t make findings, but we have gently hinted at that,” she wrote, adding “we have said we care more about high standards than about minutes on subjects.”
A City Hall spokeswoman defended Goldmark Monday and said she’s not going anywhere.
“Every one of these emails was thoroughly examined by the Department of Investigation months ago,” said Jane Meyer. “The only thing they convey was an intention to avoid taking cheap shots before the facts had come in. They show no delay in our review and explicitly state we care about high standards for students.”
Meyer said that Goldmark’s emails were benign and that the delayed report was due to a lack of access to certain yeshivas and limited information at that point.
Moster also called on New York Attorney General Letitia James to investigate City Hall’s handling of the yeshiva probe in light of The Post’s reporting.
“Every city and DOE official from the mayor to his spokespeople to former Chancellor Farina to current Chancellor Carranza  – everyone swore up and down that they were taking this investigation seriously,” Moster said Monday.
He also demanded that state education officials pass “substantial equivalency” regulations for non-public schools to compel secular coursework at yeshivas.
That effort has been complicated by fierce opposition from a range of private and parochial schools unrelated to yeshivas who would also be subject to the state’s rules.
Those institutions – including several top Manhattan private schools – argue that the proposal would compromise their curricular independence.
Brooklyn College and CUNY Grad Center education professor David Bloomfield ripped City Hall Monday in light of Sunday’s revelations.
“The Mayor and his staff are here caught in the spotlight as ethically and legally culpable,” he said in a statement. “Treating the education of thousands of yeshiva students as mere coin in a political transaction.”
Meyer reiterated that the matter had been vetted by the Department of Investigation and was now considered closed.
“The City is lucky to have public servants like Karin working tirelessly for every student, every day – she has the full confidence of the Mayor and Chancellor,” she said.