Editor’s note: This article reported that the Great Neck Public School District requested an inspection of Congregation Torah Ohr, based on inaccurate information provided by the Nassau County Fire Marshal. The request was actually made by Great Neck Alert Fire Chief Raymond Plakstis; an upcoming article will provide further details.
Congregation Torah Ohr was cleared to continue its controversial program of orthodox religious instruction for Great Neck North High School students after a fire marshal’s inspection, requested by the Great Neck Public School district, found no code violations Friday Feb. 15.
Officials from the county Fire Marshal’s office and a member of the Village of Great Neck building department entered the Middle Neck Road temple during a session of the student study group, which sparked debate after North High School Principal Barnard Kaplan sent a letter to parents warning that the temple was proselytizing to children during their open lunch period. Kaplan later retracted his letter and apologized after criticism from the Anti Defamation League.
According to Chief Fire Marshal Thomas Tilley, inspectors found no code violations after receiving a request from the school district to look into whether the congregation, which serves food to students during the study sessions, was using proper equipment to prepare the meals.
The congregation used crock pots to do its cooking, which Tilley said was permissible under county code. Inspectors did find covered smoke detectors in the building, which Tilley said the congregation would have to address but did not lead to any sanctions.
The county asked a village building inspector to accompany them because inspectors were not familiar with the building, Tilley said.
“The fire marshal requested someone from our building department to accompany them. Someone from our building department did accompany someone and left,” said Village of Great Neck Mayor Ralph Kreitzman at a board of trustees meeting. “The building department person who went in went in with the fire marshal, found nothing and left.”
Kaplan’s response to the temple’s program drew both criticism and support from residents and civic groups. The ADL called his actions an unconstitutional infringement on private religious practice and a Facebook group protesting the letter drew over 1,000 members, while the head of the interfaith Great Neck Clergy Association called the temple’s offering of religious instruction to children without their parents’ consent unethical.
Debate over the program spilled over during a Feb. 11 school board meeting, with parents discussing whether Kaplan overstepped his bounds in sending the letter or whether Torah Ohr’s program was inappropriate.
The Great Neck Public School district and Congregation Torah Ohr did not return requests for comment.
Cyndi Murray contributed reporting to this article.