In emails obtained by Breitbart News through a Freedom of Information Act request, Times reporter Eliza Shapiro discussed with the New York State Department of Education how the two entities working together could publish a series of articles targeting the yeshiva day schools, give the government more time to comment than the schools and coordinated the publishing of the articles to coincide with a vote to regulate the Jewish schools.
In September 2022, the Times’ original story alleged that Hasidic students “[know] nothing” and grow up “barely [able] to support their own families.” An investigation by Breitbart revealed that the anti-religious hit piece omitted information, ignored sources involved with the schools, and did not publish relevant on-the-record statements.
The Times story was published the day before the Board of Regents held a unanimous vote, without debate, to allow the state more involvement in the curriculum of the Jewish students, whose parents strongly opposed the social justice material that has been forced into other Empire State schools.
In one of the emails obtained by Breitbart, Shapiro wrote then-Education Department Assistant Commissioner for Public Affairs Emily DeSantis, “Hi! Hope all is well with you. We are aiming to publish the yeshiva investigation late next week and I wanted to walk you through it on a high level and we can talk about what might make sense for comment. I’m flexible today if you have some time. Thanks so much.”
The email was dated August 29, a week before the article dropped with the subject line “Walking you through the yeshiva story,” giving the department a week to prepare comments, and no such courtesy was extended that far in advance to the schools.
DeSantis replied seven minutes later and set up a call for later in the day.
The Jewish schools were not contacted until four days later, according to Breitbart, and were not offered the same courtesy to “walk you through it on a high level,” nor to “talk about what might make sense for comment.”
In an email dated September 6 obtained by Breitbart, Shapiro wrote DeSantis again with a “fact checking question,” looking to place blame for the allegation that the schools weren't meeting state education standards writing, “hoping you can help.”
She wrote, “We are planning to state that the yeshivas we mention appear to be violating the substantial equivalency law, based on our findings. We understand that the state constitutional guarantee to a basic education actually puts the onus on the state, rather than the schools, to enforce the law, so in that case the state violates the law. But I wasn’t sure whether it’s the state or the schools that can violate the SE law? Thanks so much for any guidance.”
DeSantis replied, “Your reference to ‘a basic education’ appears to refer to a separate, constitutional obligation owed only to public school students. In a 1995 decision, The Court of Appeals held that the education clause of the New York Constitution requires that a ‘sound basic education’ be provided to public school students (Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State, 86 N.Y.2d 307, 317 ; N.Y. Const. Art. XI, § 1). New York State’s liability for failure to ensure that school districts offer a ‘sound basic education’ is a separate legal issue [State substantial equivalency law].”
Shapiro replied, “Yep, sorry, should have been more clear. I was just using the basic education law as an example. Thanks for the context though, it helps us clarify,” but did not make the clarification in the article and instead wrote the article as if the yeshivas violated “basic education,” by ignoring DeSantis’ explanation.
In another email obtained by Breitbart, Shapiro asked DeSantis, “Just for my planning, on background etc, do you anticipate the *final* vote on the regs will take place on Monday or Tues?”
DeSantis replied two minutes later, “P12 Committee Monday. Full Board Tuesday as part of the P12 Committee report vote.”
DeSantis even asked for an update on when the story would run and was given the details and timing. According to the outlet, New York State Department of Health Deputy Director of Communications JP O’Hare and then-Senior Media Relations Specialist for the New York State Education Department Jeanne Beattie were copied on the update.
Following the article, the board unanimously voted to impose state requirements on the Jewish schools’ curricula and threatened to shut down the yeshivas which educate 40,000 students if the schools did not comply.
It was revealed in a letter delivered to schools in November 2022, during a court case between the Jewish schools and the state’s Department of Education that New York City, where the schools are located, under the direction of the state, demanded the secular material be taught in the religious schools, and for the government to demand the method of hiring and recruiting teachers, even after the schools met the more broad requirements listed in previous correspondence a month earlier.
Breitbart revealed that The Times did not speak with at least two of the yeshivas until days before the articles were published, despite having worked on the story for over a year, and may have started the research while disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo was still in office. Cuomo was accused of antisemitic discrimination against the Jewish community during his onerous COVID response.
Additionally, Breitbart found at least two cases where sources relevant to the story had their statements disregarded by the Times, including one claim where The Times accused two of the yeshivas of imposing corporal punishment. Despite the claim being addressed by the schools, the comments were never published.
According to Breitbart, the Times’ “reporting” was based on information from a secular-Jewish activist group, called “Yaffed” which has hosted a panel discussing how a “basic” religious education ought to include “a sound sex education and knowledge of diversity.”
In February 2023, The Times won the prestigious George Polk Award for its articles about the Jewish schools and though the outlet was campaigning for a Pulitzer Prize, it failed to win it.
The Hasidic community turned on New York Governor Kathy Hochul in the last election for her continuation of targeting Jewish schools. According to the Gothamist, “As Zeldin made repeated stops in Hasidic neighborhoods, the Hochul administration was keeping close watch: Those who levied especially bad faith attacks on the governor, the source said, may find themselves cut out of future discussions about yeshiva oversight,” citing a person in Hochul’s office.
The Hasidic community in Brooklyn was a favorite target of former New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio was accused of “scapegoating” the Jewish community in the city during COVID and targeting Jewish enclaves deliberately with onerous regulations.
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