NY Appeals Court rules in favor of State Education Department on enforcement of yeshiva regulations 

The Appellate Division issued a ruling on Thursday, June 27th, that makes clear the State’s ability to enforce regulations over yeshivas. 

The case, which was heard in March at Albany Law School, was an appeal of a decision last April to strike down two provisions of the regulations that would have allowed the New York State Education Department to declare noncompliant yeshivas unable to satisfy the compulsory education law’s requirements. After the state appealed this decision, the Appellate Court ruled nearly unanimously this morning that the Judge had improperly struck down enforcement provisions.

Justice Elizabeth Garry wrote in her decision: “Only nonpublic schools that provide substantially equivalent instruction may retain their status”, arguing that students have the right to a sound, basic education according to the New York State Constitution. 

The decision signals to opponents of regulations on yeshivas that they can no longer attempt to shift the responsibility to educate away from yeshivas and onto parents, as they previously argued in court. As Justice Garry wrote: “A child attending an institution for a full, lengthy school day period who is not receiving or obtaining a substantially equivalent education in the basics of arithmetic, English, science and history cannot adequately supplement this substandard curriculum in the few hours remaining in the week.”

With the Appellate Court taking into serious consideration the need for enforcement mechanisms to be put in place to ensure that bad actors don’t evade their responsibilities to educate, the State Education Department’s ability to enforce regulations over yeshivas has been made clear. In upholding the regulations over nonpublic schools, the court laid out the mechanisms of enforcement for failing yeshivas, ruling that: “in the event of a final determination that a nonpublic school is not providing substantially equivalent instruction,…the school “shall no longer be deemed a school which provides compulsory education fulfilling the requirements of the Education Law. Parents of students at such school are then obliged to enroll their children in a different appropriate educational setting, consistent with Education Law within a reasonable time period, and legally required services to the nonpublic school and students” will be discontinued.”

Madina Touré, New York City education policy and politics reporter for POLITICO, wrote: 
The ruling is a blow to politically influential Orthodox Jewish groups who have long accused the state Education Department of targeting the institutions. Advocates mounted a last-minute push to delay or modify the “substantial equivalency” regulation in the final days of the session to no avail.

Here’s a roundup of press coverage of the ruling: 

Politico ProAppeals court upholds state rules governing education in private schools
Shtetl New York State court rules that government can withdraw aid from failing yeshivas
Times UnionAppeals court sides with state Education Department over yeshivas
HamodiaNY Appellate Court Upholds Regulations on Yeshiva Curricula

New York State law is clear: every child has the right to a full education, and no school is exempt from the law. Education is a Jewish value and a fundamental American right, regardless of the community children are born into. This court ruling is a clear signal to the yeshivas who have been willfully ignoring the law that the time has come for them to accept reality and improve their programs or face consequences.

While we are pleased to see the Appellate Court reach this decision, we know that there will be more challenges on the way before every yeshiva in New York follows our state’s law and delivers a sound, basic education alongside a religious education. Support YAFFED today and help us keep up the fight.

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