TROUBLE FOR NY YESHIVAS: Schools Could Face Pressure Under New Rules

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Private and religious schools that don’t provide instruction substantially equivalent to New York state’s public schools will be threatened with loss of funding for textbooks, transportation and other services under new state Education Department rules released Tuesday.

The guidelines released Tuesday apply to all private schools but could have the greatest impact on ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools, called yeshivas, that critics have accused of providing little or no instruction in secular subjects like English and math.

The pro-yeshiva group Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS) said it worries local school districts may use these guidelines “as license to intrude into the fundamental working and mission of religious schools.”

The group said in a statement, “Any attempt to impose uniformity on the almost 1,800 nonpublic schools in New York State, however well-intentioned, is only going to succeed if it appropriately accounts for the uniqueness of our schools and our educational system.”

[READ MORE – SHOCK: New NYS Guidelines Require Yeshiva Elementary Schools to Teach AT LEAST 6 HOURS A DAY of Secular Studies]

Under the guidelines, staff members from local school districts will visit each nonpublic school once every five years and will determine whether the schools are providing enough instruction in required subjects including English, math, social studies and science.

A bill pushed through the state legislature last spring by state Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who has caucused with Republicans, puts ultra-Orthodox yeshivas under the authority of the state rather than local education officials.

Yeshiva critics say the law waters down enforcement, but state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said local education officials will still be charged with visiting the schools that are subject to the so-called Felder amendment and will pass on their findings to the state.

Naftuli Moster, whose group YAFFED filed a federal lawsuit over the Felder amendment, said Tuesday’s announcement by the state Education Department won’t affect the lawsuit.

“While these revised guidelines do not address the unconstitutionality of the April 2018 Felder Amendment to the New York Compulsory Education Law, they are important to help continue the dialogue we must have to truly reform the system,” he said in a statement.

The initial round of school reviews will start in the 2018-2019 school year and will conclude by December 2020, Elisa said.

Schools that are flouting the state law requiring substantially equivalent instruction will be given a timeline to reach compliance, Elia said.

If a school is still not in compliance, government-funded services like textbooks and transportation could be withheld, and students would ultimately be directed to go to another school or be declared truant, Elia said.

The new state guidelines come as New York City officials have been bogged down in a protracted review of 30 yeshivas in the city. The city Department of Education says six high schools have refused to let its inspectors in.

Department spokesman Will Mantell said that in light of the new guidelines, city educators will prioritize visiting the schools that have blocked access and may make additional visits to the 24 schools that they have visited so far.

“We welcome the guidance and will work aggressively to implement it,” Mantell said.

Elia said “there obviously would be consequences” if schools don’t let local education officials in. “If access is not allowed, certainly a determination that a school is providing substantially equivalent instruction cannot be made,” she said.

Full PEARLS Statement on guidance issued by the State Education Department:

We are still reviewing the nearly 100 pages of material released this afternoon by the State Education Department. Any attempt to impose uniformity on the almost 1,800 nonpublic schools in New York State, however well-intentioned, is only going to succeed if it appropriately accounts for the uniqueness of our schools and our educational system.

The guidelines released by SED accomplish several important things. They acknowledge that religious schools are and will remain different from public schools in curricula, mission, emphasis and instructional approaches. They expressly permit schools to satisfy course requirements by the incorporation of state learning standards into the syllabi for other courses. They direct local school districts to interpret course and instruction requirements with flexibility and inclusiveness, and that the reviews should focus on the opportunity to acquire core skills and to make academic progress. And they explicitly recognize the constitutional rights of parents to choose religious education for their children and to guide that education.

But it also delegates responsibility for the evaluation of nonpublic schools to the local school districts. That alone is reason for concern, especially if local school districts use these guidelines and the assessments they require as license to intrude into the fundamental working and mission of religious schools. We expect that the training SED will be providing to local school districts before any assessments are conducted will be quite clear about the limitations of the school district’s authority to alter the emphasis of religious schools and religious education.

We are particularly concerned that these guidelines subject the existence of every religious and independent school in New York State to a vote of a local school board. There is simply no reason to empower political actors to vote to override the equivalence findings of the district’s professional staff.

The yeshivas have been subject to a sustained campaign of misinformation and harassment, including false assertions that they failed to provide access. Today’s guidelines will encourage further deviation from the truth in pursuit of political goals.

At the end of World War II, New York had approximately 5,000 yeshiva students, and there were fewer than 7,000 students in the United States receiving a yeshiva education. Today, there are 165,000 students in New York yeshivas, and more than 300,000 nationwide. That has sparked the rebirth of Jewish life in the United States, and is responsible for the continuity of Jewish practice, tradition and learning. The Jewish people thrive in the United States because of our Jewish schools, not the other way around.

(AP)




18 COMMENTS

  1. Dear education department:
    If you want standards in our school than you better pay for them. Not just textbooks and buses. Pay for our children like you pay for all children in the state. Teachers. Buildings. Baseball fields. Everything. And we will teach math the way you want. Stop breaking our backs.

  2. Anyone who has examined the syllabi for the secular courses in public and private schools, as well as those who attended accredited colleges knows that there is great variability between what is listed in the course syllabus and the actual material taught. Employing the right people with good writing skills, one can essentially create these documents to please the inspectors, with the students still exiting the schools and yeshivos with truly inferior education. In reality, this is unnecessary. There is plenty of material that can be incorporated into yeshivos, including the entire spectrum, that can help the students obtain enough to master any standard tests and to write straight English sentences without some truly atrocious spelling/grammar. One doesn’t need to adopt the garbage that gets included in today’s public school education together with their trashy, immodest, drug filled environments.

    I am very displeased with Moster and his attack mission. Yet, I’m not sure that PEARLS is doing what they need to do. Much can be accomplished without tampering with Kedushas Yisroel.

  3. I am actually pushing for this.

    The full idea should be like this. NY and other states claim to not subsidize for private schools because of the concept of separation between church and state (which already is not being done if they are only contributing to the english portion)

    In order for a school to qualify for such grants to help with subsidizing of either busing, books, or english classes- the schools must be able to prove that the secular education provided meets the standard public school.
    I used to take IOWA’S and Regents.

    Schools that are able to demonstrate acceptable scores should be entitled to full funding. Schools that dont meet the scores should eventually lose it.

    Short of the ultra religious schools that really dont care whether secular subjects are taught, why should this be a concern.
    This could be a first step as NY is now stating that all schools are governed by their rule. If this is the case vouchers must follow

  4. The little that I know: the chassidishe schools do a very poor job teaching jewish studies not just a poor job teaching secular studies. The average chossid I know/do business with knows so little about anything Jewish. This is not because they do not value torah but because the schools are glorified babysitting centers. I am not a chossid so it is not my place to speak but if the parents want more for their children they really need to speak up and not leave this mission to an individual who’s motives are questionable, at best.

  5. The compulsory education issue raises constitutional issues. Not funding schools, as long as there are secular rules, involves discretionary spending.

    One should note the Democrats did very in the recent election in New York, “and elections matter”.

  6. besalel, you have some nerve lying about Chasidim. All over the world, Chassidish people are studying the Torah in depth, there are Chassidishe dayanim and Talmiday Chachumim, and boys in yeshiva learn with hasmoda.

    I have no clue which Chassidim you farhert, but that does not reflect on Chassidim as a whole. It’s like saying that because some amei haratzim are Yeshivish/Litvish, all of them are.

    One thing I can tell you is that you are not too smart to to make a blanket statement that hundreds of thousands of Chassidim living all over the world, devided in numerous Chassidishe hoifen, and with different methods of learning , are not knowledgeable in Judaism based on some Chassidish individuals you met. And regarding these individuals, how did you come to your conclusions? Did you farher them?

  7. We are a small minority. Can we fight “City Hall?”
    The answer is YES!ah will soon be upon us, and the lesson of Chanukah is that when there is an attempt to impose Shmad on our community we must fight vigorously and rely on Hashem to give us the victory, even if that seems impossible, as it certainly did when a small band of Maccabees took on the great Greek Empire.

  8. @besalel – I don’t know who you know or do business with, but my children are getting a very well rounded education in limudei kodesh, and do quite well in their regent subjects as well. While you might have met a few who are looking for an easy way out (as you call it “glorified babysitting…”), that does not speak for our children or our yeshivos in general. You might have just come across a few bad apples in the bunch.
    I am very proud of my children’s Jewish education. I am very proud of their secular education as well. Their chassidishe yeshiva takes it very seriously.

  9. A book, I read, on Rabbi Shach had a very, very incisive comment on secular education in cheders and yeshivas.
    Rabbi Shach said: “In the twenty century, the greatest country in philosophy, science, medicine was Germany and LOOK WHAT THEY DID !!!”
    Rabbi Shach was oppose to secular studies in cheders and yeshivas.

    Considering the lawlessness in our schools, cities, and many other institutions I would offer that religious belief in G_D and his laws is an answer to our many social ills—the ACLU and like institutions not withstanding !!!

    A goy, Gerry Mullen
    PS: B’vah’chah’shah, all Jews do More Talmud T_rah, More Davvening and More Chesed, i.e. MTT, MD and MC !!

  10. philosopher: to your point – i have only anecdotal evidence but when you meet dozens upon dozens of people who are so clueless you start to wonder. the chassidishe schools do a great job instilling love for yidishkeit and what we can call “spirituality” and other yeshivas can certainly learn from them in that regard but please do not bury your face in the ground as to what the majority come out with. (also, you do not need to farher them just speak to them in learning for 5 minutes and it becomes obvious that there was a problem somewhere). it goes without saying that chassidishe yeshivos (especially not in new york) produce some great torah leaders but weber state also produced damian lillard.

    dr: i am happy for you and your children. a great jewish education most certainly CAN be done and is done in many (but a minority) of chassidishe schools based on anecdotal evidence.

    as an aside, 50 years ago (and maybe even more recent than that) satmar provided a great all-around education. why did they walk away from that? too many students? i don’t know.

  11. besalel, you have “only anecdotal evidence” as you stated…And what is the “anecdotal evidence” from “dozens and dozens” of people you met that “proves” that we Chassidim know very little about Judaism?

    As I asked before, did you farher Chassidim? What is the “evidence” you have gathered from these “dozens and dozens” of people that makes you an authority who can state for a “fact” that Chassidishe mosdos do a “poor job of teaching teaching Jewish studies”?!

    Please go ahead and share with us examples of dozens and dozens of people who are Chassidish and don’t know much about Yiddishkeit…

  12. Mr. Mullen:
    Nazi Germany has little bearing on the question of education. The US does not enforce
    compulsory education out of concern for morals, but for economic reasons. (Also, the
    youth of the Nazi generation were more under the influence of the Nazi party via the
    Hitler Youth organization, which they were pushed into at a younger age than you might
    expect, than their schools and the Nazis were actually destroying German higher education
    in various ways, for example, with nonsensical courses on race theory and such subjects
    as “German Physics,” distinct from and not to be influenced by “Jewish Physics” – goodbye,
    Albert, we hardly knew ye). Many high-ranking Nazi officials had no higher education.
    I’ve been reading William Shirer’s memoir of that time period, if you’re wondering.)

  13. (reformatted)

    Mr. Mullen:
    Nazi Germany has little bearing on the question of education. The US does not
    enforce compulsory education out of concern for morals, but for economic
    reasons. (Also, the youth of the Nazi generation were more under the influence
    of the Nazi party via the Hitler Youth organization, which they were pushed into
    at a younger age than you might expect, than their schools and the Nazis were
    actually destroying German higher education in various ways, for example, with
    nonsensical courses on race theory and such subjects as “German Physics,”
    distinct from and not to be influenced by “Jewish Physics” – goodbye, Albert,
    we hardly knew ye. Many high-ranking Nazi officials had no higher education.)

  14. Besalel, please explain your Weber State analogy for those of us who don’t
    know enough about that university and ballplayer to understand you.
    (It also produced a Secretary of the Treasury and a guy who was in a band I like.)