Albany Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Part of Substantial Equivalency Regulations

By Hamodia Staff

New York State Supreme Court of Albany County. (googlemaps)

The Albany Supreme Court ruled Thursday afternoon that important parts of the recently enacted substantial equivalency regulations exceeded the State Education Department’s authority.  Judge Christine Ryba therefore struck from the regulations the provisions that imposed penalties on parents and yeshivas if SED determined that the school was not substantially equivalent.

Specifically, Justice Ryba ruled that the State Education Department does not have the authority to direct parents to enroll their children in a different school and does not have the power to withhold funds from a yeshiva or order its closure.

Justice Ryba wrote that “the Compulsory Education Law does not authorize or contemplate the imposition of penalties or other consequences upon a nonpublic school that has been found to not provide substantially equivalent education.”

The lawsuit, brought by PEARLS, Torah Umesorah, the Agudah and several yeshivas, argued that the New Regulations impermissibly targeted yeshivas, and imposed on them requirements that were more burdensome than those that other schools must satisfy.  The Petitioners challenged the English language requirement of the New Regulations, and its provision authorizing school board reviews of teachers.  They also argued that the adoption of the New Regulations violated the State Administrative Procedure Act.

The Court rejected the SAPA challenge, and upheld the curricular requirements of the New Regulations, while leaving for another day an evaluation of constitutional claims that the New Regulations were unfairly applied to yeshivas.

Significantly, though, the Court found that the New Regulations exceeded the State Education Department’s authority in the actions it authorized local school authorities to take if a yeshiva was found to not be substantially equivalent.  The Court therefore struck down the provision of the New Regulations that states that if a nonpublic school receives an unfavorable determination on substantial equivalency “the nonpublic school shall no longer be deemed a school which provides compulsory education fulfilling the requirements of the [Compulsory Education Law.”

The Court also held that parents cannot be made to comply with the New Regulations requirement that would require them “to enroll their children in a different, appropriate educational setting”

Justice Ryba observed that “the effect of the foregoing language is to force parents to completely unenroll their children from a nonpublic school that does not meet all of the criteria for substantial equivalency, thereby forcing the school to close its doors.  This result is inconsistent with the legislative goal of the Compulsory Education Law and exceeds the rule-making authority conferred upon respondents. “

“To us, the fact that the court said that New York State could not enforce the regulations against Yeshivas is of major importance,” Harav Yisroel Reisman, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaas to Hamodia. “It not only preserves the independence of our yeshivas, but also provides parents individually with pathways that wont allow the State to penalize either parents or the yeshivas.”

In a statement following the ruling, PEARLS wrote, “We are gratified that the Court recognized that the State Education Department exceeded its authority in enacting regulations that threaten yeshivas and parents with draconian penalties.  In striking those provisions of the regulations, the Court agreed with parents and non-public schools across New York State who opposed these regulations. The Court also preserved our ability to bring a constitutional challenge should any yeshiva be unfairly judged or burdened by the State’s application of the regulations.”

A State Education Department spokesman told Hamodia in a statement Friday, “Yesterday’s significant decision by the Albany County Supreme Court validates the Department’s commitment to improving the educational experience of all students. We have an obligation under the law to ensure all students receive an education that enables them to fulfill their potential and teaches them the skills and knowledge needed to contribute to society and participate in civic life. New York’s cultural, racial, and religious diversity is our strength and should serve as a vehicle to learn from one another. We remain committed to ensuring students who attend school in settings consistent with their religious and cultural beliefs and values receive the education to which they are legally entitled.”

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