A legal attempt to avoid state intervention to force ultra-Orthodox private schools to meet minimum standards for teaching subjects like reading and math has succeeded in removing a key enforcement tool.
While a trial court ruled Thursday that the New York State Education Department can regulate basic subjects like reading and math in nonpublic schools, it said a key enforcement measure that would have forced the closure of noncompliant yeshivots exceeds agency authority.
The conflict erupted when, after years of debate, the Board of Regents voted in September to approve new rules aimed at addressing longstanding allegations that dozens of yeshivot were not providing an education that was at least substantially equivalent to what they were receiving. offered in public schools. required by state law.
A religious group has challenged the regulations, arguing they improperly target yeshivahs and infringe on their ability to offer Jewish studies. The ruling comes as New York City officials have three months left to complete detailed determinations and recommendations about the quality of secular instruction in local yeshivot, after an unprecedented deadline set by Education Commissioner Betty Rosa. at the beginning of this year.
Albany Supreme Court Justice Christina Ryba, in a key part of the decision, upheld the state’s ability to take action, finding that religious and parental rights-related constitutional challenges to the regulations were “without merit.” “.
But the court struck down key language that would effectively force schools that fail to comply with the state’s compulsory education law to close, as families would have to enroll in different programs to comply.
Those rules “require parents to completely disenroll their child from a nonpublic school that does not meet all substantial equivalency criteria, forcing the school to close its doors,” the decision read, a consequence that is “inconsistent” with the goal. original state law, and “exceeds regulatory authority” available to state education officials.
Judge Ryba ruled that parents should be able to supplement their child’s education at a non-qualifying yeshiva or private school, provided they can demonstrate that the student is receiving a basic education. through homeschooling plans or other means.
Beatrice Weber, executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education, which filed an amicus brief in support of the Education Department, and a mother of 10 children who left her Hasidic community, said she had “very mixed feelings” about the decision.
“On the one hand, we are grateful that the rules were followed: there is no violation of the religious right to have an education, and that has been clearly defined,” Weber said. “But when you remove the enforcement mechanism, you’re really pulling the rug out from under your feet about how to make this happen.”
“Schools won’t have the motivation or the impetus to really start teaching, develop the curriculum and bring the schools up to speed,” Weber added. “This has given them a way out.”
Critics of the regulations welcomed the decision that may water down their enforcement.
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“We are pleased that the Court has recognized that the State Department of Education exceeded its authority by promulgating regulations that threaten yeshivot and parents with draconian sanctions,” read a statement from Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, who filed the claim.
The pro-yeshiva group also noted that it could present new constitutional challenges, should any ultra-Orthodox schools be disproportionately affected by the way the state applies the law.
Parents for Educational and Religious Freedom in Schools also sought to change the regulations by claiming that the Department of Education’s notice and comment period was a “sham” given the approximately 350,000 public comments it received, many of which were submitted by parents and yeshiva leaders who criticized the proposal.
“Respondents were not required to review the proposed regulations simply because members of the public objected,” the decision read.
It was not immediately clear if Thursday’s decision would be appealed.
“We are required by law to ensure that all students receive an education that enables them to reach their potential and teaches them the skills and knowledge necessary to contribute to society and participate in civic life,” said JP O’Hare, spokesperson from the state Department of Education. “We remain committed to ensuring that students who attend school in environments consistent with their religious and cultural beliefs and values receive the education to which they are legally entitled.”