North Great Neck Principal Says He Was Mistaken, Apologizes

Last week, I blogged about a letter sent by the principal of North Great Neck High School, a public high school on Long Island:

We write this letter to inform you of a situation in our community about which we have deep concerns. There is a store front temple that serves kids free food and then while they are eating, preaches to them. They only permit Jewish kids to enter. They separate boys from girls. Girls are offered free food and religious instruction Tuesdays from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and boys are offered free food and religious instruction on Thursday and Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

As you know we have an open campus and students are allowed to leave campus on their free periods or lunch periods to walk to town and get lunch. They are not allowed to drive so their choices are constrained to the immediate general area. The Torah Ohr Temple at 575 Middle Neck Road believes it is perfectly okay for them to entice our students with free lunch in order to give them orthodox religious instruction, or what many would frankly call proselytizing children. We don’t agree. We have consulted many other local clergy, and they don’t agree with the practice either. These are children, not adults.

Upon hearing about the situation, we visited the Temple ourselves. The visit was unsettling. There were at least several dozen of our students sitting at long tables in a room that had to be entered through a side door. They were quietly eating while a man was instructing them in orthodox religious beliefs. There is no sign on the building even identifying it as a Temple.

We entered into conversations with Rabbi Kohan, the man in charge who clearly believes that what he is doing is perfectly okay. He is sincere and sure in his belief system and, while he says he wants to “cooperate,” so far he is unwilling to take the simple steps that we have asked him to take which is simply to create with us parent permission slips and notification so that we are sure that parents understand and approve of their children attending religious instruction during the school day, religious instruction that is in no way at all supervised or approved by the Great Neck Public Schools or by anyone close in supervisory authority other than this Rabbi and his Temple.

At first the Rabbi agreed to set up a permission letter with us but then called and said he had to consult with lawyers. We asked him to desist in his lunches and lectures until the matter is settled. He refused.

We have contacted the police and the local authorities who up to now say that there is nothing they can do. We have discussed the matter with our P.T.S.A. leadership and concerned parents. We are contemplating further steps and actions, but at this point thought it important to inform all of you of the situation.

We will continue to press the Rabbi to institute, at the very least, parent notification and permission, and we will keep you informed of developments.

Now The Jewish Week reports:

[I]n a second letter to parents mailed Friday, Kaplan wrote that “upon reflection, my letter of Jan. 31 … was an unintended infringement on students’ rights. The principal of a public school cannot cannot interview with religious practice conducted outside of the school’s purview.”

Kaplan apologize[d] to those who “were affronted by my letter” and urged parents to discuss lunchtime activities with their kids.

Sounds right to me, and I’m glad the principal admitted his mistake and apologized for it — just the thing we try to teach our children to do, as it happens.