Yeshiva Students Fight Back Against Elite Privates Schools Suing NYSED

Brearley + Spence etc join religious schools in resisting state oversight

NEW YORK, NY (03/25/2019) (readMedia)-- Today, YAFFED, yeshiva and private school graduates joined with good government groups to demand that the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) stop covering for yeshivas by attempting to circumvent reasonable state oversight. On March 7th, eleven elite private schools, including the prestigious Brearley and Spence Schools, filed a lawsuit as part of the New York State Association of Independent Schools to stop the state from enforcing revised guidelines. These guidelines are designed to make sure that non-public schools are meeting the legal requirement to provide an education that's "substantially equivalent" to public schools. The guidelines do not differ significantly from previous versions, requiring the teaching of the basics, such as English, math, science, and social studies. A consortium of yeshivas and Catholic schools have also filed two similar lawsuits which claim religious freedom from oversight.

On Friday a Judge is expected to dismiss or accept the schools' request for a preliminary injunction which would halt the New York State Education Department from enforcing the guidelines.

"Many yeshivas have been skirting state educational standards for decades with devastating results for students, " said Naftuli Moster, Executive Director of Yaffed. "The occasional inspection may be annoying for the average private school which would easily pass muster, but the alternative--which is the continued educational neglect of thousands of Hasidic children-- is unacceptable."

The NYSAIS lawsuit argues that the guidelines, which require an inspection within the next 2-3 years and then every 5 year subsequently, are an overreach of the state's power. If the private schools win their suit, they would, in turn, be helping yeshivas who refuse to meet the the state's guidelines as well. Catholic and elite private schools would easily pass any substantial equivalency test, but instead they've rallied to the defense of the ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas which make no secret of the fact that they haven't and won't provide their students with a full secular education.

The revised, minimal guidelines, established on November 20th, 2018 would require:

  • Nonpublic schools and religious schools to be inspected minimally: within the next 2-3 years and then every 5 year subsequently
  • Academically rigorous instruction in core subjects.
  • The local school board or the Chancellor to determine whether a substantially equivalent education is being provided in religious or nonpublic schools
  • The local district must work with the religious and nonpublic schools to review textbooks and ensure that each student is receiving a sound education while respecting the school's culture.

Yeshivas receive millions in state funding, but for years have eschewed the statutory requirement to provide a substantially equivalent education, leaving graduates woefully unprepared to succeed in secular society. Currently, students receive only 90 minutes of secular education in Hasidic boys' elementary schools, and none in high school.

"I am proud of the education I received at Friends Seminary," said Nina Sawyer, graduate of Friends Seminary. "The New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) shouldn't be using their power to provide cover for schools that aren't educating their students."

Dr. Barbra Rothschild, a Dalton parent said, "We believe our children receive an excellent education at their private school, Dalton. But we also believe every child in New York City has the right to graduate high school with a working knowledge of English, mathematics, and science. The small inconvenience of an inspection to our private school is worth it to preserve that right for all children."

"The Talmud is clear: A father is obligated to teach his son a trade. Today, this includes teaching boys formal secular education. The recently promulgated guidelines by the state will hopefully bring about the necessary curriculum changes that so many yeshivas desperately need," said Yossi Newfield, a graduate of Chabad's Yeshiva Oholei Torah and an ordained rabbi.

"It is an outrage that this problem continues after the original expose by YAFFED. It is incumbent on the Mayor and the Governor to step in with full respect for the particular interests of the yeshiva community to demand that basic educational requirements be met. The notion that it might be okay to provide an "education" whose graduates cannot function in society because they lack basic English, math and other essential skills is absurd. Political catering to special interests cannot be allowed to prevent students' ability to function," said Ruth Messinger.

"Yeshivas have been taking public money while skirting state education standards to the detriment of their students for decades. The fact that politicians continue to defend this willful neglect of the law speaks more to the Ultra-Orthodox community's political influence than a real concern for parent choice. It's long past due for city and state officials to put aside politics and prioritize the public interest by making effective use of their oversight powers to protect all schoolchildren," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.

"These weak, misguided lawsuits subvert the very educational values plaintiffs hold dear and give cover to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas denying access to the secular subjects plaintiffs proudly teach. Advancing of a 70 year old precedent in Packer Collegiate v. State of New York is little more than a smokescreen, meant to avoid legitimate public scrutiny, since the Packer court's requirement of a clear legislative standard is met by the Education Law's long standing requirement that all schools provide a substantially equivalent program of secular studies and the Education Department's necessary process of enforcement. These suits must not prevent Mayor de Blasio from carrying out his legal, educational, and moral obligation to assure that ultra-Orthodox yeshivas teach basic secular subjects like English, math, science, and social studies," said David Bloomfield, Professor of Education Leadership, Law & Policy at The CUNY Graduate Center and author of American Public Education Law.

"Ensuring that our children receive a sound and basic education does not violate religious freedom, but strengthens the civic health of all our neighborhoods", said Jonathan Soto, AVP of Strategic Initiatives at Union Theological Seminary. "All communities should adhere to the revised, minimal guidelines established this past November, and Albany should not grant any exemptions."