Last week, in a ruling that could have major ramifications for yeshiva students across New York State, an appellate court overruled a lower court ruling that the Washingtonville school district must provide transportation to nonpublic school students on all days that their schools are in session.
The case, United Jewish Community of Blooming Grove v. Washingtonville Central School District, challenged the school district’s policy of providing transportation to nonpublic school students only on days that public schools are also open, a policy that was supported and defended by the New York State Education Department. The position of the Blooming Grove Jewish community, a chassidish community in New York neighboring Kiryas Joel, was that state law did require the school district to provide transportation on those contested days.
In November 2021, Judge Peter Lynch ruled that New York State Education Law Section 3635 (1) requires the school district to provide transportation to all nonpublic school students on all days when their nonpublic schools are open for instruction, regardless of whether the public schools are open, and ordered the school district to do so. He also ruled that the State Education Department’s guidance document, which states that school districts are required to provide nonpublic schools with transportation only on days that public schools are open, is null and void as it violates New York State Education Law.
But last week, Judge Lynch’s ruling was reversed by the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court (Third Department). The appellate court ruled that the district was not required to provide busing to nonpublic school students on days that public schools are not in session.
“Every child in New York should be entitled to transportation when their school is in session, whether they attend public or nonpublic schools,” said Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Agudath Israel’s director of New York Government Relations.
“This disappointing ruling on appeal is not in the best interests of the children of Blooming Grove, or for other children in New York State who attend nonpublic schools whose school calendars are not identical to that of the local public schools. Nor, as a matter of law, is the ruling correct,” said attorney Martin Bienstock, who authored an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on behalf of Agudath Israel in support of Judge Lynch’s ruling. “We will again make our voice heard if this decision is appealed to New York’s highest court.”
“The Blooming Grove Jewish community is grateful to Agudas Yisroel for the support we have received in this judicial battle,” said Isaac Eckstein, chairman, UJC of Blooming Grove. “We definitely plan to appeal, and we hope that our cause will prevail,” added Joel Stern, board representative, UJC of Blooming Grove.
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)