Following accusations of inappropriate behavior at Bais Sarah School, which educates close to 1,000 students in Boro Park, NYS Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) spent a month working to address parents’ concerns. The result was a recent commitment from the school to add new protocols that Hikind says can be significant if taken seriously. More, the Assemblyman is hoping that other schools will follow suit and he’s calling on Agudath Israel of America to support the initiative.
“Last month, numerous parents reached out to me regarding allegations of abuse at Bais Sarah,” Hikind said. “The school has an overall excellent reputation but there were issues that had to be addressed, which is never easy for parents, and even harder for our community’s institutions. Consequently, Shimon Ostreicher, a highly respected community activist, organized a meeting with myself, Rabbi Klein, Shiya Ostreicher, Naftuli Reiner and Shuli Halpert in an effort to address the issues at Bais Sarah to everyone’s satisfaction.”
At this meeting, Klein agreed to accept a mandatory protocol at Bais Sarah that would allow an outside expert on school grounds who is specifically available to speak with the girls and their parents regarding any complaints or concerns. Klein also agreed to offer training and education specific to abuse for the Bais Sarah staff. A letter to this effect was mailed by Rabbi Klein to parents on June 11. Hikind called the letter’s promise of change an important and potentially historic first step.
“When I began speaking out about sexual abuse many years ago, the entire issue was thoroughly taboo,” said Hikind. “No one was doing anything about it beyond recycling the garbage—firing an accused teacher or employee and thus making it possible for a predator to move on to another institution. Even our community’s media has remained largely terrified of addressing the matter. So looking back on those dark days and seeing how far we’ve come is encouraging. Today, at least some people are willing to address the matter.
“Complaints of abuse at a school cannot be viewed through the lens of how a school might be impacted; they must be addressed first and foremost pursuant to the interests of a child. Children must be able to speak with their parents about anything that makes them uncomfortable at school, and parents should feel confident that their children are protected. Schools must be willing partners in this safety mandate.”
When asked about the follow-through on Bais Sarah’s proposed changes, Hikind promised to maintain a watchful eye. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “Long before I was an elected official, I was mindful of my obligation toward fellow Jews. I consider shedding light on the topic of sexual abuse and working to prevent future incidents one of the most significant accomplishment of my career as an elected official. But after I leave office, I will always be equally vocal on this subject, if not louder.”