By Reuvain Borchardt
NEW YORK – Yeshiva groups have filed a request for an injunction against New York State’s new private school curriculum regulations, arguing that the regulations violate the constitutional rights of Orthodox Jewish families and state education laws.
Parents “have the fundamental right to control the upbringing and education of their children, but the new regulations ignore their constitutionally protected interests by handing over control of yeshiva curriculum and faculty to local school authorities,” the motion said. filed in the state Supreme Court on Monday 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 were passed by the Council of Regency in September of this year, a decade after some graduates of Hasidic yeshivas first claimed their secular education inadequately prepared students to earn a living and participate in today’s society. But yeshiva advocates have argued that parents should have autonomy in deciding their children’s education consistent with their religious beliefs, that the totality of a yeshiva education is superior to that offered in public schools, and that yeshiva graduates lead more productive lives than public -school leavers.
State law has required the curriculum for secular studies in private schools to be “at least substantially equivalent” to that offered in public schools for more than a century, but the law has never specified exactly how substantive equivalence is determined.
The new regulations require all private schools to demonstrate that they provide substantially equivalent education through one of several routes, including: having a high school that offers Regents exams, being accredited by an accredited accreditation body, or SED-approved Assessments are used to show students’ academic progress. If a school fails to qualify under any of these methods, it can demonstrate substantial equivalence to what the yeshivas find most intrusive: the school’s curriculum is overseen by the local school board (LSA), the school chancellor in New York City, reviewed and approved and the local school board elsewhere.
LSA reviews would check not only whether schools teach the core subjects math, science, social studies and English, but also other subjects such as patriotism and citizenship; the meaning and effect of the provisions of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the New York State Constitution and their amendments; History and Civics of New York State; Physical education; health education relating to alcohol, drug and tobacco abuse; highway safety and traffic regulation; Fire drills, fire and burn prevention and injury prevention, and CPR and AED use.
The proposed regulations were first announced last March and ushered in a mandatory 60-day public comment period that resulted in more than 350,000 comments, the vast majority of yeshiva graduates opposed to the regulations. But the regulations were put to the vote by the Council of Regency with virtually no changes in September and passed unanimously and with little debate at the Council of Regency meeting.
“The public comment process was nothing more than a sham,” the yeshiva groups argue in Monday’s filing, “designed by NYSED [the New York State Education Department] lead to the adoption of the regulations exactly as proposed without any major revisions. NYSED simply dismissed every single criticism, suggestion and suggestion made by the public without addressing the many important issues they raised.”
“That was what NYSED had intended all along: to enact the new regulations as originally proposed, notwithstanding public comments received and proposed alternatives. NYSED treated the public comment period not as a means to an end — to consider criticism and alternatives — but as an end in itself. Failure to accept a revision or alternative among the thousands that were proposed was NYSED’s goal for the public comment period, not the result of its review.
The 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 stricter than the laws applicable to public schools. “In particular, the new regulations require that instruction be in English for all major minors, although many public schools with designated ‘bilingual programs’ are allowed to teach the majority of their instruction in a language other than English,” the suit says. “Therefore, the new regulations impose more restrictive standards on non-public schools than on public schools in a perceived pursuit of ‘equivalence’.”
Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the regulations last month. Monday’s new filing seeks an injunction against the regulations as the case weaves 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 yeshiva Torah Vodaath, one of the oldest yeshivas in the United States, says in his affidavit that the new regulations would “force YTV to change its character and identity.” By forcing the yeshiva to reduce its hours of religious instruction to include more hours of secular subjects, and by allowing SED the power to determine who may serve as a qualified teacher at the yeshiva, the regulations would result in Torah Vodaath “Go[ing] the reputation for religious education that we have carefully nurtured for a century.”
“YTV is quite proud of the professional achievements that so many of its graduates have achieved in medicine, law, accounting, technology, healthcare and so many other fields,” writes Rav Reisman. “Yet our satisfaction is not in their temporal achievements, but in the fact that their worldly achievements 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,” said a affidavit from Aaron Twerski, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who previously served as dean of Hofstra Law School functioned, citing the “strong emphasis on ethics and moral development as well as cultural identity, traditions and cohesion” and the “critical thinking and analytical skills that far exceed those acquired by students in traditional schools”. Listing a variety of industries and fields in which Chassidic Yeshiva graduates have found success and prominence, Prof. Twerski says: “Indeed, I would challenge any large-scale secular education system to achieve the results achieved by our schools .”
Avraham Weinstock, chief of staff at Agudath Israel, said in his affidavit that the new regulations will affect yeshivas “almost exclusively” since almost all non-yeshivas either offer Regents exams or are already accredited, while the many yeshivas are not affiliated with A high school that offers Regents exams must take the LSA exam.
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 in societies that operate with widely differing religious and cultural assumptions,” argues in his affidavit Statement that “Yeshiva education advances most of the vitally important learning principles I studied as a graduate student to a degree that would put many college and graduate students to shame.
“The state should not interfere in the inner religious life of a thriving community. Haredim and Hasidim are good citizens, earning a living and contributing to society in myriad ways,” writes Prof. Krakowski. “These regulations will force religious changes on large sections of the Orthodox Jewish community. They would force Haredim out of New York State or risk having their entire religious life wiped out in an act of cultural genocide.”
That said an SED spokesman haemodia that the SED will not comment on pending legal disputes.
The plaintiffs’ motion for an injunction can be found here
Harav Yisroel Reisman’s affidavit is available here
Prof. Aaron Twerski’s affidavit is available here
Prof. Moshe Krakowski’s affidavit is available here
Avraham Weinstock’s affidavit can be found here