We welcome last Friday’s decision by New York State Supreme Court Justice Christina Ryba that the New York State Education Department’s new regulations went too far in authorizing the closing of yeshivas that were found not to meet its instructional standards. The regulations require that private school students receive an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that given to their public school counterparts.
The decision is a breath of fresh air in the long and arduous effort to secure the viability of Torah education in New York State – not only because it removes enormous pressures from yeshivas, but also because it will facilitate making the case for equivalence in individual cases going forward. The ruling also frees yeshivas from the threat of possibly having to compromise their religious convictions upon pain of forcible closure.
Citing a provision of New York’s compulsory education law assigning the responsibility for the education of children to parents, Ryba 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 their child. The judge reasoned that if a school offers inadequate instruction a child could be given additional instruction 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,” she said.
In the practical sense, state educational authorities will now, if necessary, have to target parents on an individual basis for any alleged deficiencies. As a respondent (i.e. defendant) in a particular case involving their own child, the parent will ostensibly be in a better position to demonstrate equivalence than an impersonal school representative.
Significantly, Judge Ryba dismissed the claim that the regulations were unconstitutional but did so on procedural grounds, not on the merits of the claim itself. As such, the issue remains an open one.
We hope the decision will cause the NYSED to temper what has at times seemed an overly aggressive challenge to our yeshiva school system and baseless embrace of the notion that somehow we don’t care if our children are prepared for the lives they will lead.
Finally: A hat tip to Avi Schick, Esq. for some great lawyering.