This week’s meeting of the Rockland County Legislature began on a dramatic note when the first citizen to speak during scheduled public participation was forcibly removed from the building by police officers. The man was quickly escorted out of the council chambers after spewing a series of derogatory remarks at Legislator Santulli, who recently proposed a memorializing resolution that would encourage the New York State Senate to pass Bill S1733, which would “provide an enforcement mechanism for non-public school educational standards.” The bill could “allow the state to have a little bit more power to go into private schools and check to see if they’re giving out and providing secular education for their students” said Santulli, whose resolution failed in committee last week.
During a heated public, forum many members of the Hasidic community expressed strong disapproval of the resolution. Some advocates of the yeshiva schools provided personal testimony in favor of their schools stating that they and their families had become successful members of the community thanks to their private education. Other supporters decried the crime and violence that occurs in public schools and argued that it is a parent’s right to have their child educated in a private seminary. One passionate defender of the yeshivas said that the state is “shoving down their throats something they don’t want,” referring to the New York Government as a “nanny state” and claiming that the proposed bill would strip away religious freedoms from the community.
Supporters of the resolution maintained that the bill was by no means an attack on any specific community and that upholding education standards is of paramount importance. Jackie Drexler, a local music teacher, told the legislature that she once worked with an orthodox child “who did not know a word of English” while other citizens echoed concerns that some private schools, including yeshivas, might not be meeting state education standards.
Legislator Santulli herself said that those who believe the bill to be an attack on the community are “reading it the wrong way and interrupting it wrong—that it’s about parent choice, it’s not. It has nothing to do with what schools there going to.” Legislator Santulli and other proponents of the bill argue that is a necessary measure that will help ensure all of New York’s children receive a quality education.
Legislator Wieder denounced the resolution in a public statement claiming the measure “has nothing to do with education” and is instead “a continuous, sinister campaign to besmirch and delegitimize Hasidic Jews in Rockland County.” Legislator Santulli replied in her own statement that “the videos posted all over social media tell no lies of exactly what went on that evening. The over 100 people that attended witnessed exactly what happened. People from different faiths, communities in Rockland, and walks of life spoke out in favor of this resolution. The resolution is not about religion.”