Judge Strikes Down Secular Education Rules for Yeshivas

Girls play in a yeshiva schoolyard Tuesday in the Williamsburg section of New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

(CN) — A judge has blocked New York from using public funds to force secular education goals, like learning how to read and write in English, on ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools.

Announced in November 2018, the state’s new guidelines required local school district staffers to visit each nonpublic school in the state once every five years to ensure that subjects like English and math were being taught as legally required. 

The rules were adopted in response to criticism that basic math, history and other topics are never taught at ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, where classes are usually taught in Yiddish. 

The schools receive millions in government funds, but New York’s guidelines change would remove those dollars from schools that failed to comply. State education officials said students would ultimately be reassigned to other schools or declared truant.

After the pro-yeshiva group Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools petitioned the Albany Supreme Court for relief in March, Judge Christina Ryba ruled Thursday that the state exceeded its authority under the Administrative Procedures Act.

Judge Ryba did address in her 8-page ruling whether the guidelines violated religious freedom.

For the group Yaffed, short for Young Advocates for Fair Education, Thursday’s ruling is 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,” Yaffed executive director Naftuli Moster said in a statement. “Elite private schools put their own annoyance about an occasional inspection over the future of Hasidic children — and now thousands suffer.”

Yaffed found in 2017 that only 65 percent of respondents it surveyed reported having been taught math or how to read English in Yeshiva elementary schools.

Roman Catholic and private secular schools that were also affected by the guidelines brought lawsuits against the state as well.

Attorneys for the state did not immediately respond to email seeking comment, nor did representatives at the pro-Yeshiva group PEARLS.

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