The New York State Education Department has decided that a boys’ yeshiva in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn is breaking the law by failing to provide a secular education to its students.
The New York City Board of Education found otherwise, but it is the state that has ultimate authority over the issue.
The state decision, reported Wednesday by The New York Times, found that Yeshiva Mesivta Arugath Habosem, which serves some 500 students, does not provide a sufficient education in core subjects such as English language arts, math, history and science.
The decision came three years after a parent filed a complaint against the yeshiva, saying her son was not receiving an education in secular subjects.
Since nearly all yeshiva high schools (mesivtas) conduct interviews with prospective students and their parents prior to admission, it is not clear why this mother chose a school focused solely on limudei kodesh (religious subjects), rather than applying to a different yeshiva with a secular curriculum.
The ruling by State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa marks the first time the State of New York has actively interfered with the operation of a Hasidic school.
Rosa rejected contentions by New York City’s Education Department that the yeshiva was in compliance with the state law requiring an education curriculum equivalent to that in public schools, the New York Daily News reported.
The commissioner ordered the yeshiva and the city in 12 pages of instructions to jointly draft and submit a plan and timeline to reach “equivalency” within 60 days, showing how it will provide a basic secular education. That deadline, however, could be extended if the school officials show “good faith progress.”
“Although the school provided some evidence of content geared towards these competencies, there was little evidence that instruction in such areas was regularly and meaningfully delivered to students,” Rosa wrote.
“Going forward, NYCDOE must articulate the evidence upon which it relied, or if it does not exist. . .acknowledge the lack thereof,” she wrote.
“We conducted a thorough, detailed investigation in this case involving multiple school visits and classroom observations, extensive reviews of curricular materials and interviews of school staff,” said Nathaniel Styer, a spokesperson for the NYC Education Department, in response.
Adding that the recommendation included 10 pages detailing its findings, Styer said, “We stand by our investigation,” but noted that city officials “recognize that our recommendation was just that – a recommendation – and that the state had ultimate authority to make the determination.”
The city education department said it would “welcome” more guidance from the state and courts to clarify how to implement the state law.
The “Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools” (PEARLS) organization noted in a separate statement that city education officials had visited the yeshiva “several times” and found it met standard protocols.
Rosa herself participated in one of those visits, according to the New York Post, citing documents on the matter.