NY Yeshiva Groups Seek Injunction Against Education Regulations

By Reuvain Borchardt

NEW YORK — Yeshiva groups have filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against New York State’s new regulations on the curriculum of private schools, arguing the regulations violate the constitutional rights of Orthodox Jewish families as well as state education laws.

Parents “have the fundamental right to control the upbringing and education of their children, yet the New Regulations ignore their constitutionally-protected interest by handing control over curriculum and faculty at yeshivas to local school authorities,” reads the motion, filed Monday in state supreme court by the organizations Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS), Agudath Israel of America, and Torah Umesorah; and Yeshivas Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Torah Vodaath, Tifereth Jerusalem, Rabbi Jacob Joseph and Ch’san Sofer.

The regulations passed the Board of Regents in September of this year, a decade after some graduates of Chassidic yeshivas first alleged that their secular education inadequately prepares students to earn a livelihood and participate in contemporary society. But yeshiva advocates argued that parents should have autonomy in deciding their children’s education in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs, that the totality of a yeshiva education is superior to that offered in public schools, and that yeshiva graduates live more productive lives than do public-school graduates.

State law has, for more than a century, required that private schools’ secular-studies curriculum be “at least substantially equivalent” to that offered in public schools, but the law never delineated precisely how substantial-equivalency is determined.

The new regulations require all private schools to prove they are providing a substantially equivalent education, via one of a number of pathways, including: having a high school that offers Regents exams, being accredited by an approved accrediting body, or using assessments approved by SED that demonstrate student academic progress. If a school cannot qualify under one of these methods, it may prove substantial equivalency by the method yeshivas consider most intrusive: the school having its curriculum reviewed and approved by the local school authority (LSA), which is the schools chancellor in New York City and the local school board elsewhere.

LSA reviews would consider not only whether schools are teaching the core subjects of math, science, social studies and English, but also other subjects including patriotism and citizenship; the significance and the effect of the provisions of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the New York State Constitution and their amendments; New York State history and civics; physical education; health education regarding alcohol, drugs and tobacco abuse; highway safety and traffic regulation; fire drills, fire and arson prevention and injury prevention, and CPR and AED use.

The proposed regulations were first announced last March, kicking off a mandatory 60-day public-comment period, which resulted in more than 350,000 comments, the vast majority from yeshivah graduates opposing the regulations. But the regulations, with virtually no changes, were then put for a vote by the Board of Regents in September, passing unanimously and with little debate at the Board of Regents meeting.

“The public comment process was nothing more than a sham,” the yeshiva groups argue in their filing Monday, “designed by NYSED [the New York State Education Department] to lead to the adoption of the regulations exactly as proposed, without any substantive revisions. NYSED simply rejected every single one of the criticisms, suggestions and proposals submitted by the public, without addressing the many important issues they raised.”

“This was what NYSED intended all along: to enact the New Regulations as initially proposed, regardless of the public comments received and alternatives proposed. NYSED treated the public comment period not as means to an end — to consider criticisms and alternatives — but as an end in itself. The failure to accept any revision or alternatives from among the thousands that were proposed was NYSED’s goal for the public comment period, not the result of its review.”

Plaintiffs also allege that the regulations violate a 1948 state court precedent by effectively enacting a licensing system for private schools, and that the regulations are inconsistent with, and more stringent than, laws applicable to public schools. “In particular, the New Regulations require that instruction be in English for all common branch subjects, even though numerous public schools with designated ‘Dual Language Programs’ are permitted to teach the vast majority of their instruction in a language other than English,” the suit says. “Thus, in supposed pursuit of ‘equivalency’ the New Regulations impose more restrictive standards on nonpublic schools than on public schools.”

The plaintiffs filed suit against the regulations last month. The new filing Monday is seeking a preliminary injunction against the regulations while the case winds its way through the courts.

Monday’s filing also includes affidavits from Rabbanim and other community officials regarding the impact of the proposed regulations on yeshivas.

Harav Yisroel Reisman, Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Vodaath, one of the oldest yeshivas in the United States, says in his affidavit that the new regulations “would require YTV to change its character and identity.” By forcing the yeshiva to reduce its hours of religious studies to accommodate increased hours of secular subjects, and by giving SED the ability to determine who may serve as a qualified teacher at the yeshiva, the regulations would result in Torah Vodaath  “los[ing] the reputation for religious education that we have carefully nurtured for a century.”

“YTV is quite proud of the professional successes that so many of its graduates have achieved in medicine, law, accounting, technology, health care and so many other fields,” writes Rav Reisman. “Yet our satisfaction is not derived from their temporal achievements but from the fact that their secular accomplishments are built on a foundation of religious beliefs, values and practices.”

“Yeshivah education is remarkably effective in providing the tools necessary for success in the secular world,” reads an affidavit from Aaron Twerski, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who previously served as Dean of Hofstra Law School, citing the “heavy emphasis on ethical and moral development, as well as cultural identity, traditions, and cohesion,” and the “critical thinking and analytical skills that far surpass those obtained by students at traditional schools.” Prof. Twerski lists a host of industries and fields in which Chassidic-yeshiva graduates have found success and prominence in and says, “Indeed, I would challenge any large-scale secular educational system to match the results accomplished by our schools.”

Avraham Weinstock, chief of staff at Agudath Israel, said in his affidavit that the new regulations will affect yeshivas “nearly exclusively,” since nearly all non-yeshivas either offer Regents exams or are already accredited, whereas the many yeshivas that are not connected to a high school that offers Regents exams will be required to undergo the LSA review.

Professor Moshe Krakowski of Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, whose research has focused on “how minority religious communities perpetuate their religious worldview within societies that operate with very different religious and cultural assumptions,” argues in his affidavit that “yeshiva education promotes most of the critically important learning principles that I studied as a doctoral student, to a degree that would put many college and graduate students to shame.”

“The State should not interfere with the internal religious life of a community that is flourishing. Haredim and hasidim are good citizens, they earn good livings, and they contribute to society in innumerable ways,” writes Prof. Krakowski. “These regulations will force religious change on large segments of the Orthodox Jewish community. They would force haredim to leave New York State or risk having their entire religious life wiped out in an act of cultural genocide.”

An SED spokesperson told Hamodia that SED would not comment on pending litigation.



The plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction is available here

Affidavit of Harav Yisroel Reisman is available here

Affidavit of Prof. Aaron Twerski is available here

Affidavit of Prof. Moshe Krakowski is available here

Affidavit of Avraham Weinstock is available here

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