The battle over whether the New York State education department should have the authority to regulate private schools and yeshivot and to what extent, has come to an end, at least for now. The governing body for education policy in the state, the 17-member Board of Regents, voted on Tuesday to require the teaching of English, math, science and history and/or exhibit the “substantial equivalent” of those subjects in private schools statewide. According to the language of the regulations, the burden is on each school to prove to the Regents that their curriculum is at least substantially equivalent to those offered in public schools, either with Regents Exams, independent (yet approved by the New York Regents) accreditation, or assessments by approved local authorities. If fully enacted, schools must submit their results or applications to local authorities by December 2023.
The decision was widely opposed by those in the Chasidic and Haredi communities, which prioritize the teaching of Talmud and religious education, and responded in large numbers to surveys requested during a comment period. “Agudath Israel remains deeply concerned that the state is moving forward with its plan to intrude upon and regulate the curriculum of private schools,” said Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, in a prepared statement. Agudah had also expressed concern that feedback from the yeshiva community had rendered the Regents’ proposed regulations unchanged.
Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer also weighed in on the issue. “As we stated in our public comments to the [Education] Commissioner and Board of Regents, we are very concerned that these regulations will lead to constant conflict between government and the religious community, and compromise an educational system that has had a strong track record of producing upstanding and productive citizens dedicated to family and community,” he told The Jewish Link.
In “An Open Letter to the New York State Education Department from the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America and The Vaad Roshei Yeshivah of Torah Umesorah,” issued just after the vote on Tuesday, a large swathe of leaders came together to present a unified viewpoint from the yeshiva community and its educational institutions. “As religious Jews, we seek above all else to raise our families in the traditions of our faith. We all stand as one! Our people have sacrificed so much over the millennia to preserve the institution of the yeshiva—the foundation of our faith.
“We cannot relinquish control of the yeshivas that are the essence of our people. We cannot surrender control of our curricula. We cannot abandon to others the selection of our teaching staff. Our religious requirements have not been adequately addressed. Our rabbinic leadership has not been properly heard. Our 300,000 pleas of our communities have not been given the attention they deserve. Our people simply cannot abandon our religious values. With the help of God we will not permit it to happen.”
New York Congressman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin spoke to Yeshiva World News outside the Vizhnitz Yeshiva in Monsey on Tuesday. “We had an opportunity here for so many in state government to be able to speak up and defend everything that’s great about a yeshiva education. But unfortunately, too many people were silent. Governor Hochul was one of them. It’s important when you’re the governor of the state of New York to speak up for what is right,” he said. Zeldin added that bureaucrats in Albany are ignoring that “inside of these yeshivas, we have young kids who are receiving an education that is promoting values of service, of family, boys and girls living law-abiding lives.”
Regent Susan Mittler told The Jewish Link on Monday that the board has to look at the issue from a different lens than just the Haredi community, which has protested the new rules and regulations. On Monday, a group of more than 100 members of the chasidic community from Brooklyn as well as Orange and Rockland counties rallied for three hours in Albany, taking over an armory and making speeches in Yiddish. One organizer from Monroe told The Jewish Link this policy would destroy the insular aspect of their kehillah for their children. He said the community does not want their children mixing with the secular community physically, emotionally or intellectually.
“We are trying to obviously adhere to the law but also create some flexibility around that as well,” New York State Commissioner of Education Betty Rosa said Monday.
Agudath Israel may be ready to take this decision to court in an attempt to get the ruling reversed or lessened. “The specter of the government overriding the will of parents and dictating how and what we teach in our private, religious schools is frightening,” said Agudah’s Zweibel. “We also note the regulation’s inclusion of several alternate pathways described in the regulations, which provide avenues for private schools to be deemed equivalent and avoid the need for intrusive and subjective local authority inspections.
“We have opposed government intrusion in our schools many times, and fought prior incarnations of the regulations in court, in Albany and together with the broader Orthodox community and many others as part of the first and second public-comment periods. We will continue to fight on behalf of our community to protect the autonomy of private, religious schools, as needed,” said Zweibel.
By Marc Gronich and Jewish Link Staff