We welcome the positive statements Mayor Eric Adams made last week about the education provided by the city’s yeshivas. His remarks stood in stark contrast to the recurring efforts by New York State education officials that would force yeshivas to comply with rules and regulations designed to make them resemble public schools but impinge on their religious mission. The officials involved cite the state’s compulsory education law, which requires non-public school students to receive an education that is “substantially equivalent“ to what their public school counterparts are supposed to get.
At a dinner sponsored by the Orthodox Union’s yeshiva advocacy arm, Teach NYS, Mayor Adams echoed a theme long trumpeted by The Jewish Press, telling the audience that “we need to be duplicating” in our public schools what is being achieved in the yeshivas instead of criticizing and trying to undermine the yeshiva programs with arbitrary comparisons and curricula requirements. He said the public schools were failing their students and there was a lot they could and should be learning from yeshivas, not the other way around.
While this is not the first time Mr. Adams has expressed his admiration for yeshiva education, it is a most opportune one. In March, a New York State Supreme Court Justice ruled that the New York State Department of Education’s regulations went too far in authorizing the closing of yeshivas that were found not to meet its instructional standards, effectively putting a hold on enforcement. Citing a provision of the New York compulsory education law, which assigns the responsibility for the education of children to parents, the judge ruled that the state could only look to the parents – not to the schools in which their children are enrolled – for any deficiencies in the education of a child.
The judge reasoned that despite a school’s possibly inadequate course of instruction, a child could well be given additional instruction that was secured by the parents from other sources. “Parents should be given the reasonable opportunity to prove that the substantial equivalency requirements for their children’s education are satisfied by instruction provided through a combination of sources,” the judge wrote. One example provided was the option of home schooling.
As a practical matter, the equivalency rules won’t be implemented any time soon – at least not until the state comes up with a constitutional and workable plan to pursue legal actions against many thousands of parents. And that won’t be easy. We have to believe that an individual parent would ordinarily make a more compelling case for being permitted to raise their children according to time-honored traditions than a school ever could.
The ruling frees yeshivas from the threat of possibly having to compromise their religious convictions upon pain of forcible closure. Furthermore, the court-imposed breathing space presents an important opportunity for careful consideration of possible changes to the law that would recognize the overarching value of the totality of a yeshiva education. It also provides our side with a degree of leverage over the heretofore untouchable secular education establishment.
Plainly this all has implications for yeshiva education, but it could also go a long way to counter the very dangerous situation occasioned by the relentless attacks mounted of late by the New York Times on the bedrock of the Jewish People. Indeed, given the admittedly poor performance of the public schools, the focus on yeshivas is clearly about more than education.
We applaud Mayor Adams for showing the way.