Friday, July 01, 2016

Say it Ain't So

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker visiting students at SCHI (website)
It’s really hard to criticize a place like SCHI (The School for Children with Hidden Intelligence). That’s because of what it does – and does successfully. This is a private institution in Lakewood that caters to developmentally disabled children. As its website proclaims: 
Since its founding in 1995, The School for Children with Hidden Intelligence (SCHI) has grown to become a world-renowned, cutting-edge therapeutic and educational center meeting the unique needs of over 600 severely-developmentally delayed, medically fragile, and socially-emotionally challenged children & young adults ranging in age from birth to 21+.
It has recognition and funding from the New Jersey Department of Education. That is in addition to funding by ‘grateful parents and other Orthodox donors’. State funding was to the tune of $12.5 million for 130 students placed there in 2012. It boasts a state of the art facility and a staff of 450 professionals. 

The tuition $97,000 per student was set by the state. SCHI is a model institution of its type that according to Asbury Press is a must stop for politicians running for office in New Jersey - and other dignitaries. And since SCHI is an Orthodox institution run by Orthodox Jews in Lakewood it should be considered a Kiddush HaShem.

Which I believe it was until it was raided by the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety’s Division of Criminal Justice “who were seen law enforcement officials were seen removing boxes from SCHI offices labeled “SCHI Invoices 11-12” and “SCHI Deposits.”

There have been complaints about the heavy Orthodox composition of the facility. Even though it is non sectarian as required by law, that it is mostly populated by Orthodox Jews should not be surprising. I doubt that anyone was ever turned down based on creed color or religion: 
"The truth of the matter is, we could not find a person in our community to say that, 'I wanted (my child) to go to SCHI and I was denied,'" said the Rev. Glenn Wilson, the leader of Lakewood U.N.I.T.E., a group that represents the interests of the district's public school families. 
But that still leaves over the question as to why it was raided and why computers and financial records were seized.

I want to be Dan L’Kaf Zechus (judge them favorably). This is not only a Torah principle but it is the law of the land as it applies to the American system of justice: Innocent until proven guilty. It is my sincere hope that this will be the case and that any suspicion aroused by this raid will be eventually put to rest. And that SCHI continues to be the model institution it has always appeared to be and its reputation as such will remain intact. A true Kiddush Hashem.

Unfortunately government raids like this do not happen randomly. There has to have been some serious suspicion of fraud. Which is unfortunately not that hard to disbelieve these days considering that there has been fraud committed by other Orthodox institutions like this - and even Orthodox rabbis - in the past. 

How many times have we heard about schools that misused government funds intended for one thing being used for another? Even if those funds were not used for personal gain, it was still a fraud to misappropriate funds for a purpose for which it was not intended.  Fraud is Fraud.

The temptation to divert some of a $12 million dollar allocation for things unrelated to the school must be pretty great considering the needs of a community that so heavily relies on government support just to survive – as many Kollel families do.

I’m not accusing anybody of anything. I have no clue if any of that money was improperly used – or if so, how it was used. But when there is a big pot of money in front of you and a lot of idealistic poor people struggling to survive, the temptation to help them out surreptitiously in one way or another must be very great.

My sincere hope is that after a full investigation takes place, SCHI and its leadership will be completely exonerated. Because if they aren’t, this Kiddush HaShem will very quickly turn into a Chilul HaShem.