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. Three months before, in August, the Governor had signed a bill permitting yeshivas to fingerprint their employees, and do criminal background searches. An old law, from 1937, had prohibited private schools from doing such a thing. Let me tell you about the ceremony that took place. It happened to have been Election Day, back then in 2007. I was in my law office, when a UPS box arrived, with the return address of the NYS Senate. I analyzed, correctly, that Senator Dean Skelos, the Deputy Majority Leader, and the bill sponsor, had sent me something special, and I was correct. The recent history here was that from 2002 to 2005, I had attempted, unsuccessfully, to persuade the organized yeshiva world to enact a national background check system, similar to what the Catholic Church had done. In this manner, we would avoid hiring registered sex offenders, and other dangerous persons with criminal histories who should not be working in close proximity to children. Indeed, there have been incidents in yeshivas where employees with criminal records have been hired, and they have assaulted our children in a makom kadosh, a holy place, where we parents had assumed they would be perfectly safe. The background check issue originally came to my attention because I was handling a civil case for damages in which a church janitor, with a criminal record, had sexually assaulted a 7-year-old child. Frustrated by the inability of our organized yeshiva world to construct a background check system, I wrote two long letters, more like legal briefs, first, to Governor Pataki, and then, New York State legislative leaders, laying out all of my arguments for the need of a new law that would require our yeshivas to fingerprint their employees. I made many points in my legal brief-like letters, and among them was that in 1994, it became federal law that all state public and private schools could have access to the FBI national criminal history database. I wrote that as a result of this federal law, 42 states required their public schools to fingerprint their employees. I wrote, and emphasized, that 12 states, including several large states, required their private and religious schools to fingerprint their employees – including California, Illinois, Michigan, Florida, Massachusetts, and Maryland. I wrote that New York actually prohibited yeshivas from fingerprinting, and the law needed to be changed, to make it mandatory. I also wrote that an organization of 1,000 orthodox rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America, had formally endorsed mandatory fingerprinting and background checks for yeshiva employees. An idea then took hold in the New York State Legislature. A bill would be written, which it was, first permitting religious schools to fingerprint their employees.
Assuming the passage of that bill, the next year, a bill would be introduced making it mandatory. Sure enough, the optional fingerprint bill passed, and I won this pen from the Governor, and the next year, as promised, a bill was introduced a bill making it mandatory for all religious schools to fingerprint their employees. That bill passed the Senate, but has never been allowed to reach the floor of the New York State Assembly. Since then, we a group of professionals, psychologists, physicians, rabbis, Lawyers, and survivor/advocates, began to network. Together, we studied the law, the psychology, the medicine, and the Torah of child abuse very intensely. Together, we formed a nonprofit corporation, Jewish Board of Advocates for Children. High on our agenda is extending all of the child safety laws that protect public school children, to the religious and nonpublic schools. You now know that in New York State, it is only optional, not mandatory, for yeshivas to fingerprint their employees, while in public schools it is required. But did you also know that in the three years that the optional fingerprint law has been in existence, only 1 yeshiva, the North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, is fingerprinting. There are 390 private Jewish schools in New York State, educating about 125,000 children. As we sit here now, our children are therefore exposed to convicted sex offenders, drug offenders, and even paroled murderers who may be working in our midst. And I emphasize, there have been incidents. Did you also know that public schools are legally required to have defibrillators, paid for by school boards. There is no such law for nonpublic schools. Is this right? Is this fair? Is it right and fair for a human being to have, God forbid, a heart attack in a public school, and literally back to life, while in a religious school, he fades away and dies? My friends, it is not fair, it is not right. Is it fair and right that public education departments in New York State are required to maintain registries of people who are dangerous and unfit, and may not work in public schools, but the religious schools are exempt from this requirement, and there have been disastrous results? Pedophiles have been known to move from one private school to another, and nobody is keeping track. My friends, it is not fair, and it is not right. Is it fair and right that silent resignations of sexually and physically abusive employees are prohibited in the public schools, but in the religious schools, abusive employees have been shifted from one yeshiva to another, and inflict more harm? My friends, it is not fair, and it is not right. Is it fair and right that all public school employees are, unambiguously, mandated reporters to the government of any type of child abuse, but the religious schools are exempt? My friends, it is not fair, and it is not right.
Is it fair and right that in the public schools, sexually abusive employees are subject to legally mandated discipline, including suspension or termination, while in the religious schools, a slithery, poisonous snake like Yudi Kolko is allowed to work in a yeshiva for decade after decade, inflicting harm, and nothing happens, until a small group of people, including me, agitate on a blog, and elsewhere, and a brave detective, and parents and children, finally bring that so-called man to justice? My friends, it is not fair, and it is not right. Is it fair and right in the public schools, physically abusive employees are subject to legally mandated discipline, but in the yeshivas, children are still being slapped, pushed, pulled, and in a couple cases I know of, punched and choked, and nothing happens. My friends, it is not fair, and it is not right. Is it fair and right that in the public schools, only legally certified teachers may teach secular subjects – reading, writing, arithmetic – but the religious schools may hire anyone who knows how to add 2 plus 2? My friends, it is not fair, and it is not right. Is it fair and right that safety and health plans are legally required for the public schools, in case of emergency, but the nonpublic schools are exempt? My friends, it is not fair, and it is not right. Why are things this way? There seems to be a misconception that the government may not regular religious institutions. This is a complete and utter fallacy. There are US Supreme Court and other appellate court decisions, clear as day, which hold that neutral laws, which regulate public health and safety, may be applied to religious institutions. Basic police and fire protection, and mandatory vaccination laws, apply equally to public and religious school children, without any constitutional problem. The government is not establishing any religion, in violation of the First Amendment. In the absence of child protection law safeguarding our children, is it any wonder that Catholic and Jewish institutions have been afflicted with the terrible problem of abuse. Catholic schools are closing. Their numbers are shrinking. Our own numbers have plateaued, and we now have orthodox families sending some of their children to public school or are home schooling. Depending upon who you ask and how you count, there about 100,000 to 125,000 Jewish children attending private schools in New York State. Overall, there are 450,00 nonpublic school children in New York, about 15 percent of the total. These children need to be brought under the protective umbrella of New York child protection laws. I’m now going to hold up a critical document. This legal brief is entitled, Position Paper to the New York State Legislature, and it was produced by our organization, Jewish Board of Advocates for Children. Its one of the most important legal briefs I have ever filed. There are three critical articles here. First, there is my article, arguing for the child protection laws I just described. Next, there is the article authored by Rabbi Mark Dratch, of Yeshiva University, our Rabbinic Board member, who persuasively argues that mandatory employee fingerprinting is a halachic
imperative. Finally, we have a brilliant article from a Cincinnati psychiatrist, describing the long term effects of child sex abuse. Also appearing in this Paper are the two Resolutions of the Rabbinical Council of America endorsing child protection legislation for yeshivas and all nonpublic schools in New York. We also have a relatively short petition, signed by 240 good people, under very short notice, in which they also endorse legislative change. I think I know what’s on your minds at this point. What can you do to make things better? First you can go onto our web site, at jewishadvocates.org, and just read our Position Paper. We actually have a web site. We state the facts, and our opinions in the printed word, made accessible to the world at large, just the way it should be. You then have an opportunity to sign our petition, and if you agree with it, or even just agree with most of, please, do our people, and the world at large, a big tovah, a favor, and sign the darn thing. These petitions actually do make a difference in places where it counts. Next, you should talk up these legislative ideas in your yeshivas. Ask them why aren’t they doing fingerprinting like in all the other states. Tell them about the Position Paper and the web site. Also, if you have what you think is a good idea to move this agenda, contact us with your big idea. Quite frankly, we’re in need of a fundraising agenda. Laws just don’t get passed in Albany because somebody has a bright idea. We need to advertise, there are printing expenses, and so on. Finally, I note that present here this evening, is Assemblyman Dov Hikind, one of the leaders in this very important movement to have safer and better yeshivas. There are only two state legislators who consistently return my phone calls, Senator Skelos, and Dov Hikind. Dov, we need your help, in introducing us to the right people on the respective Education Committees, and in the State Education Department, who can, potentially, make things happen. I know you’re going to be there for us. I thank you all for your kind attention, and with our own hishtadlus, may God bless us with siyata dishamaya.
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