A New York Supreme Court Judge has struck down recent state guidelines meant to improve the quality of secular education in yeshivas and other private schools.
The decision concerns a set of State Education Department directives issued in November that mandated a district-led review of the curricula across New York's private schools. The move was fiercely opposed by local yeshivas, which have long faced scrutiny into the level of non-religious education offered to students. If the schools were to be found in violation of "substantial equivalency" requirements, the state said, they could lose funding and potentially be shuttered.
In response to the state guidelines, the pro-yeshiva group Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools [PEARLS] sued the education department, claiming infringement on their religious freedoms. They were joined in the suit by an association of Catholic schools, as well an organization representing secular private schools. Together, the groups argued that the "new inspection regime" violated the State Administrative Procedure Act, and was therefore illegal.
Judge Christina Ryba agreed, and on Thursday declared the state's guidelines "hereby nullified." While the ruling did not directly address the constitutionality of the guidelines, it found that the education department was not authorized to mandate such a sprawling review.
In a statement, PEARLS immediately celebrated the news. "This stops in its tracks SED's effort to radically transform the relationship between the state and its private schools," the group said.
But the decision marks a major setback for the movement to reform New York's ultra-Orthodox schools. For years, the Orthodox-led group Young Advocates For A Fair Education [YAFFED] has raised concerns about yeshivas, which they say provide high school boys with an education exclusively focused on Talmudic studies, leaving them unprepared for adulthood.
Recent efforts to investigate the schools have repeatedly come up against political roadblocks. In a letter sent to the state this summer, NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza acknowledged that a city-led probe had made little progress over three years. A month later, Governor Andrew Cuomo reportedly promised the Satmar Rebbe of Williamsburg that he "would not interfere in yeshiva education."
On Thursday, Naftuli Moster, the executive director of YAFFED, called the court's decision a "tragedy for all children."
"Removing the revised oversight signals to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas that they can continue business as usual and fail to provide basic instruction in math, English, science, history, civics and other subjects that are keys to a sound basic education," he said.
Susan Lerner, leader of the good government group Common Cause, also decried the decision: "Yeshivas have been taking public money while skirting state education standards to the detriment of their students for decades."
"As political leaders kowtow to rabbis across the city, thousands of Hasidic children are caught in the middle without simple skills, like english and math," Lerner continued. "The New York State Education Department (NYSED) guidelines are minimal, and it's a Shonda yeshivas are getting away scotch free. We urge the state to appeal."
A spokesperson for the education department told Gothamist that the agency was "reviewing the court’s decision and will determine the appropriate next steps."