NYS to Appeal Ruling in Education Regulations Case

By Reuvain Borchardt

New York State Assistant Attorney General Bill Scott delivering oral argument in state Supreme Court in Albany, March 1. At left is state Education Department Deputy Counsel Aaron Baldwin. (Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia)

New York state will appeal a judge’s ruling that barred the state Education Department from enforcing newly enacted education regulations against yeshivas, even while keeping the regulations themselves in place.

The regulations, passed last September, require all private schools in the state to prove they are providing a secular education “at least substantially equivalent” to that offered in public schools. Schools could prove their substantial equivalence using one of a number of specific pathways, including: having a high school that offers Regents exams, being accredited by an approved accrediting body, or using assessments approved by the state Education Department that demonstrate student academic progress. If a school doesn’t qualify under one of these methods, it may prove substantial equivalence by the method schools consider most intrusive: the school having its curriculum reviewed and approved by the LSA (the local school authority, defined as the schools chancellor in New York City and the local school board elsewhere).

New York State’s “Compulsory Education Law” of 1895 law has required that private-school students provide an education “at least substantially equivalent” to that offered in public schools, but the law never specifically delineated how substantial equivalency is determined.

The Education Department began the process of seeking to enact regulations defining “substantial equivalency” around 2015, after some former yeshiva graduates alleged they had not received an adequate secular education.

Yeshiva advocates have argued that yeshivas in fact offer a robust education, particularly when including the critical-thinking and analytical skills learned in Judaic studies, and when considering student outcomes and successes rather than specific hourly inputs of secular education. They also oppose regulations of their curriculum as an intrusion on religious and parental rights.

Five yeshivas and the yeshiva groups PEARLS (Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools), Agudath Israel and Torah Umesorah, filed suit against the regulations, alleging that the Education Department tailored the new regulations in a manner that targets yeshivas and enacted them in a manner that violates the State Administrative Procedure Act (SAPA); and that the regulations themselves are unconstitutional.

In her ruling last month, State Supreme Court Justice Christina L. Ryba rejected the SAPA challenge, and said constitutional claims would have to be made on an as-applied basis, effectively leaving the regulations in place for now. However, she ruled that as the Compulsory Education Law is directed at parents rather than schools, if a school is deemed non-substantially equivalent, the state may not force its students to leave the school, but their parents shall be given an opportunity to prove they are providing supplementary education, such as with homeschooling.

As enforcement of the regulations is achieved far more easily by going after a school rather than its hundreds or thousands of parents, the upshot of Ryba’s ruling appears to preclude any serious enforcement the regulations.

Yeshiva groups celebrated the ruling as an important if incomplete victory, with PEARLS saying, “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.”

The State Education Department’s statement at the time also claimed victory, saying the “significant decision by the Albany County Supreme Court validates the Department’s commitment to improving the educational experience of all students.”

But while yeshiva groups have not appealed the ruling, on Monday, as expected, the state Attorney General’s office filed a notice, within its allotted 30-day window, that it intends to appeal the ruling.

Harav Yisroel Reisman,  Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaath, one of the plaintiff yeshivas, told Hamodia, “It’s incredible – the state Education Department does not let up in its relentless pursuit of the yeshivas. It’s almost as if the state public schools have no problems of their own that need to be dealt with.”

The Attorney General’s office has six months to file the appeal.


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