Public schools in New York need to be taking a lesson from their non-public school colleagues in the effort to improve the academic performance of their students, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said last week in blunt remarks at the 2023 annual Teach NYS dinner held May 10 in Woodmere.
“Instead of us focusing on how we can duplicate the success of improving our children, we attack the yeshivas that are providing a quality education that is embracing our children,” Adams noted in a sharp reference to the attempt last September by the New York State Board of Regents to require private schools to comply with the state’s minimum academic equivalency standards, which included the requirement to provide secular subjects such as English and math.
Attorney Avi Schick (Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP) subsequently filed a motion on behalf of the Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS), Agudath Israel of America, and Torah Umesorah; and Yeshivas Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Torah Vodaath, Tifereth Jerusalem, Rabbi Jacob Joseph and Ch’san Sofer, arguing that the regulations approved unanimously September 13 by the Board of Regents violate the constitutional rights of Orthodox Jewish families as well as state education laws.
It was not the first attempt by the Regents to seize control over the yeshiva curriculum and force Orthodox Jewish education institutions to instead replicate that of the public school system, but it was a stronger, more focused effort that was seen in the past.
A lawsuit filed in November 2022 in State Supreme Court in Albany in response to passage of the new regulations alleged the rules that were unanimously approved by the Regents violated plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, and similar clauses in the New York State Constitution.
The yeshivas, said Adams, “have turned around the question mark of ‘how are our children.’ You are making an exclamation point that’s saying, ‘Our children are fine.’”
“We need to be duplicating what you are achieving,” he told the gathering.
“People are asking questions … about what is happening in our yeshivas across the city and state, while at the same time, 65 percent of black and brown children never reach proficiency in the public school system, but we’re asking, ‘What are you doing in your schools.’”
Instead, he said, “We need to ask, ‘what are we doing wrong in our schools and learn what you are doing in the yeshivas to improve education.
“Let’s reach across our ethnic, cultural, and religious philosophies … and appreciate the religious philosophies that are part of the educational opportunity,” the mayor urged.
“I don’t apologize for believing in God. God made us who we are, and we need to embrace our religious belief, because it instills in us the principles of who we are. Faith is who we are.
“It is not only what we have on our dollar bill, ‘In God We Trust’ … It is not only that before you walk inside the room you touch the mezuzah, to say that you acknowledge what’s going on – it’s not only that we wake up in the morning and pray.
“God is who we are. Faith is who we are. We are a country of faith and belief, and we should have it anywhere possible to educate and to help uplift our children in the process,” Adams declared.