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The Way New York State Can Control Yeshivas Has Been Changed — And Restricted — By A Court Decision

By 04/03/2023 3:57 PMNo CommentsBy YidInfo Staff

What should happen if a yeshiva does not provide its students with the minimum secular education mandated by law? And whose fault is the school or the parents who picked it?

These issues were at the center of a shocking decision rendered last week in a New York state court that, if upheld, will fundamentally alter how the state can oversee private schools.

It also presents a problem for proponents of more secular education in yeshivas, who have spent years pressuring the state to impose its school requirements more rigidly.

It is the most recent significant move in a protracted conflict between an education department trying to impose secular education standards on private institutions and haredi Orthodox yeshivas defying governmental pressure.

A judge in Albany ruled that the state no longer has the authority to effectively force yeshivas to close for not teaching secular studies in a “substantially equivalent” way to education in public schools after a trial that pitted several yeshivas and their advocates against the state’s education department.

The decision states that parents, not schools, are responsible for ensuring that children receive a secular education that is “substantially equivalent.”

The court did, however, decide that the criteria for schooling as a whole remain in effect. The yeshivas and their supporters had sued the department hoping that the judge would completely overturn the rules requiring standards for secular education.

Both supporters and detractors of yeshivas are happy with some aspects of the decision while unhappy with others. The state’s system for implementing secular education requirements in private schools will need to change, but it is unclear exactly how it will look.

The decision, according to Michael Helfand, a scholar of religious law and religious liberty at Pepperdine University, “highlights and notes that the statute itself requires parents to ensure that their children receive a substantially equivalent education, but it doesn’t impose an obligation on the schools to provide that.”

If so, the Act does not permit the school closure because it did not offer a “substantially equal” education.

The rules in question were passed in September, not long after The New York Times published the first of several investigations looking into Hasidic yeshivas and noting that some received public support yet fell far short of secular education standards.

The yeshivas and representatives of haredi Orthodox communities have criticized the articles as discriminatory and false.

The state may require parents to remove their children from yeshivas (or other private schools) and enroll them in institutions that adhere to state standards, thus forcing the school to close if those institutions do not offer kids a “substantially equal” secular education.

According to Christina Ryba, the judge who penned the decision from last week, “some elements of the New Regulations impose repercussions and fines upon yeshivas above and above that permissible” by law.

Ryba claimed that requiring parents to take their kids out of school, the restrictions go beyond what the state can do.

She added that if children are not receiving the required instruction at yeshivas, they can still receive it elsewhere, in some form of “supplemental instruction that specifically addresses any identified deficiencies,” as state law does not require that they receive the necessary secular education “through merely one source of instruction provided at a single location.”

That decision, according to Helfand, means that the state will have to use alternative enforcement strategies, such as choosing to “tie particular requirements to how schools receive funding” or conducting investigations into parents rather than schools, which he characterized as a much more difficult task.


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bobby bracros

Author bobby bracros

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