From just before dawn and until after dark, hundreds of teenage boys study at four ultra-Orthodox Jewish high schools in Brooklyn that are at the center of an increasingly bitter standoff between government officials and the orthodox community.
City officials have been trying to inspect the schools, following a complaint that the Yeshivas don't teach required secular subjects, like English and math, leaving their students ill prepared for adulthood. For a time, it appeared the city was treating the Yeshivas with kid gloves, in order to avoid offending a politically influential community. But 10 days ago, Chancellor Richard Carranza officially notified the state education commissioner of the standoff.
"We've trained a whole team and we're ready to go,” Carranza said. “And we've had numerous assurances that we will get dates and when it comes time to sit down and get dates, we get another letter or another excuse as to why we can't get dates and enough is enough."
Avi Greenstein, a leader of a group created to defend the yeshivas, downplays the latest delay, saying the yeshivas want clarification from the State Education Commissioner on guidelines released in November on what non-public schools must teach.
"All we are saying is, let's wait until this clarification comes from the commissioner and then we will be happy to have the education department visit our schools," Avi Greenstein, CEO of the Boro Park Jewish Community Council said.
But the chancellor says he's done waiting. If the inspectors cannot get in, Carranza wants the commissioner to declare the four schools out of compliance with state education law, a step that could lead to the state shutting them down.
Members of the ultra-Orthodox community are framing such threats as government interference in their education system. A leading rabbi recently called the standoff a war that must be won at all costs.
"It is important to understand that this is a very sensitive topic,” Greenstein said. “When it comes to yeshivas, this is the core of who we are as a people, this is the bedrock of our community."
The Education Commissioner is reviewing the Chancellor's request. Meanwhile, tensions rise.