Less than a week after pockets of Brooklyn Hasidic erupted in response to new COVID-19 restrictions closing schools and other institutions in heavily infected areas, the Bet Yaakov Ateret Torah yeshiva opened and parents’ cars opened lined up on Coney Island Avenue to drop off and pick up students on the same schedule from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
From around 2:30 p.m., children’s voices fill the fenced yard with trailers parked along the main brick complex of the religious school, and vehicles stop in a rear parking lot or pick up their children at the entrance gates. Several neighbors told the Daily Beast that new signs advertising “CHILD CARE SERVICES” were put up on Monday – when yeshivas in the state’s “red zones” reportedly reopened after the Jewish holidays, without the governor’s orders. Andrew Cuomo.
The wording is clear, although what is actually happening in Bet Yaakov and other yeshivas where the publications have observed continued attendance is more difficult to pin down.
None of the parents approached by The Daily Beast on Wednesday responded to questions. But an individual who introduced himself as a representative of the school and who did not give his name or title, insisted that Bet Yaakov was in line with Cuomo’s mandate.
“Part of his decree is that schools should close but daycares could remain open,” he said.
This may be true: A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio told the Daily Beast that he was “familiar” with activities at Bet Yaakov and many other Jewish schools in areas most prone to viruses, and described it as an oversight in the governor’s decree.
“We have received reports of yeshivas operating as day care centers,” Blasio press secretary Bill Neidhardt told The Daily Beast. “The spirit of the law must be respected here, and we are working with the state to remedy this loophole. We saw epidemics in the yeshivas weeks ago and we can’t live with this anymore.
Public records show Bet Yaakov is licensed to run a small, half-day pre-kindergarten program for two to five year olds, which would fall under the legal definition of daycare. However, three of the school’s neighbors – who asked to remain anonymous in order to keep the peace in their diverse neighborhood – said they saw elementary-age children continue to enter and exit the building, even though the high school students remained. absent. While touring the premises, The Daily Beast spotted a number of young people who appeared to be six years and older.
Glimpses through the school door appeared to reveal a general lack of mask wearing among children and staff inside.
In addition, the yeshiva seems to operate throughout the school day. When The Daily Beast asked the city’s health ministry – which licenses and inspects daycare centers – whether Bet Yaakov’s license would allow him to resume his activities beyond the pre-kindergarten program, he referred to the remarks made by the mayor at a press conference on Thursday.
“There is a gray area where we expect more state guidance in the area of child care and what the rules are for child care,” de Blasio said. “I think everyone needs clearer standards. We don’t have enough clarity on child care.
Cuomo, for his part, doesn’t seem to think the area is gray at all.
“There is a difference, just to let you know, between providing child care and running a school. You can’t run a school and then say, “Well, tomorrow I turned it into a daycare. So now I operate the school, but it’s not a school, it’s a daycare, ”the governor said, without an invitation, at an event on Wednesday. “A school is not a day care center, and you are not fooling anyone by saying, ‘Oh no, they are not going to a school, they are going to a day care center.’ Maybe you can fool some people, but you can’t fool New York State. “
But Cuomo’s staff did not respond to repeated questions about Bet Yaakov in particular, or how he would approach the issue more generally. His order’s apparent inability to explicitly address the issue of child custody is particularly odd given reports that yeshivas in suburban New York City took advantage of a similar loophole in the first few months of the pandemic.
Appeals to Bet Yaakov and his leaders for comment on this story have not been returned. But the ongoing activities of the school have disturbed some of those who reside nearby.
“It’s a pandemic,” said a man who lives across the street, noting that his own elementary school son was taking classes through Zoom as the city battles a coronavirus outbreak. “They should close.”
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