Judge voids rules aimed at reforming ultra-Orthodox schools


NEW YORK (AP) — A judge ruled Thursday that New York state overstepped its authority with guidelines intended to ensure that ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools teach secular subjects like English and math.

The ruling by a state judge in Albany nullifies state Education Department guidelines for monitoring private schools, including religious schools. Critics of ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, where classes are taught mainly in Yiddish, had argued many students barely learn to read or write in English and never learn basic scientific concepts or historical facts.

Under the guidelines announced in November, staff members from local school districts were to visit each nonpublic school in the state once every five years to determine whether the schools were providing enough instruction in all of the subjects required by state law.

Schools that were deemed not to be in compliance with state law could lose government-funded services like textbooks and transportation, and students would ultimately be directed to go to another school or be declared truant, state education officials said.

A spokeswoman for the Education Department said it is reviewing the decision “and will determine the appropriate next steps.”

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A pro-yeshiva group called Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools sued in March over the guidelines, arguing that the directive was unconstitutional and that the education department lacked authority to impose such sweeping new guidelines.

Groups representing Roman Catholic schools and secular private schools, which also would have been affected by the new guidelines, also sued.

Judge Christina Ryba sided with the plaintiffs and ruled the new guidelines were not implemented in compliance with the State Administrative Procedure Act. The ruling did not address whether the guidelines violated New York state constitutional protections for religious freedom.

Naftuli Moster, the executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education, or YAFFED, a group that pushes for improved secular instruction at yeshivas, called Thursday’s ruling “a tragedy for all children.” Moster called the state guidelines “reasonable and essential, not an intrusive overreach of the government.”

But Avi Schick, an attorney for Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, said, “We join with the more than 1,000 private schools that challenged the new guidelines in applauding the State Supreme Court’s decision declaring the new State Education Department guidelines null and void.”

Mark Lauria, executive director of the New York State Association of Independent Schools, said, “We very much appreciate that the judge recognized the merits of our legal arguments and agreed NYSED must immediately suspend its ill-conceived regulations forcing local schools.”

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