Photo Credit: Albany County Bar Association Facebook
Justice Christina Ryba

Albany Supreme Court Justice Christina Ryba on Thursday ruled that State Education Department (SED) officials had disregarded legally required steps before issuing new guidelines that threaten to shut down yeshivas whose secular education standards are “inferior.”

Justice Ryba ruled that the officials were required by state law to publish proposed rule changes for public comment prior to their implementation – which they had failed to do.

NY State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia

On Tuesday, Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia released the new guidelines endowing her with the power to cut funding for yeshivas and other parochial and private schools that do not provide secular education which is “substantially equivalent” to the standards in nearby public schools. The guidelines also order the parents in these schools to send their children to an alternative institution or face charges of truancy.

Attorney Avi Schick / Troutman Sanders website

Former deputy attorney general of New York and partner at the law firm of Troutman Sanders Avi Schick, representing the private schools that filed the motion against the guidelines, told the NY Post that Justice Ryba’s ruling “stops in its tracks SED’s effort to radically transform the relationship between the state and its private schools.”

Under the new guidelines, religious schools have three years to match their standards in secular core curriculum subjects with those of neighborhood public schools, which means providing at least one class per semester of English, math, and science, alongside career and tech education.

Last November Avi Schick said yeshivas are concerned that the “substantially equivalent” requirement would completely alter their educational environment.

“Appendix A of the Program Requirements expects that fifth through eighth grade yeshiva students receive two ‘units of study’ in English Language Arts, Social Studies, Math, Science, and various units of study for Phys Ed, Health Ed, Music, Visual Arts, and more,” Schick said, explaining: “A unit of study, it says, is equal to at least 180 minutes of instruction per week. Add up the units in this Appendix, and we are looking at six to seven hours a day of secular studies.”

Schick suggested this is well beyond what any Yeshiva can provide without seriously impairing its ability to provide Torah studies, which is the reason their students have registered in the first place.

“Obviously, no yeshiva can do this,” Schick said.