A broad coalition of Yeshivas, yeshiva parents and organizations that promote and protect the rights of parents to choose yeshiva education for their children filed a lawsuit today challenging the new State Education Department (SED) guidelines regulating all of the state’s private schools.
The lawsuit asserts that the regulatory regime governing private schools that SED released in November, 2018 is overly intrusive in mandating what private schools must teach, how they must teach it, the length of time it must be taught and even who can teach in private schools.
Failure to comply with the SED requirements can lead to a school being ordered to close and parents being given thirty days to switch their children to different schools.
The Yeshivas that filed suit today were five of the original yeshivas established in New York – and the United States. Yeshivas Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, Mesifta Tifereth Jerusalem, Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, and Yeshiva Chsan Sofer – The Solomon Kluger School, were founded between 1899 and 1918 and have been in continuous operation in New York since then. They have produced tens of thousands of graduates who participate in all aspects of New York and American life. They were joined by PEARLS, Agudath Israel of America and Torah Umesorah, and a coalition of parents whose constitutional rights to direct the education of their children have been undermined by the SED Guidelines.
The suit comes on the heels of a separate court challenge by the NYSAIS (New York State Association of Independent Schools) that likewise maintains that SED overreached its authority by issuing the new guidelines.
Today’s lawsuit argues that the State Education Department does not have the statutory authority to impose the comprehensive set of requirements and mandates that are contained in the Guidelines. It further argues that SED failed to follow the process for regulations required by the State Administrative Procedures Act, which include publication, a notice and comment period, public hearings and formal adoption by the Board of Regents. SED ignored each of those steps. The lawsuit asked the court to stay the enforcement of the new SED Guidelines.
The new guidelines represent a radical reorientation of the State’s relationship with its private schools. Since the 19th century, the State has respected the rights of private schools and the parents who choose them for their children to operate independently. Yet the Guidelines issued last November would require all private schools to have their curriculum, school schedule and faculty choices subject to the review and approval of local public school officials.
Parents in the Orthodox community have long made it clear that they are proud of the quality and well-rounded education their children’s’ yeshivas provide. Their community and elected leaders have repeatedly voiced objections to SED guidelines that subject the yeshivas to rigid curriculum requirements and checklists that undermine their ability to continue their emphasis on Jewish studies, texts, history, ethics and morals. .
“The guidelines pay lip service to the importance of flexibility,” said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, “while at the same time they impose rigid curricular obligations on all nonpublic schools. We cannot allow each yeshiva to depend on the mercy and whims of individual bureaucrats. We have a responsibility to Yeshiva parents, and to the continuation of a culture that spans generations, to stop this terrible governmental overreach.”
“We will do whatever it takes to protect our religious values and the yeshiva system,” said Rabbi David Niederman of PEARLS. “Over the past century we have produced hundreds of thousands of successful alumni, law abiding citizens and thriving families. The overwhelming majority of alumni continue to show their confidence in the yeshiva system by enrolling their children.
“SED has ignored the uniqueness and values of our education system,” Rabbi Niederman said. “We will continue our efforts to assure that our students graduate with the strongest religious values, coupled with the necessary skills to succeed in life. There is no reason, let alone any justification, for government intrusion into our yeshiva system and deprivation of our parental and religious rights. These guidelines must be opposed.”