‘The cure before the plague’: Haredi leaders suggest enforcement against failing yeshivas won’t happen

Celebrations could be short-lived if state wins on appeal

Satmar Yeshiva in Brooklyn. Credit: Mo Gelber/Shtetl

Jul 21, 2023 3:20 PM


Haredi publications have suggested in recent weeks that there will be no government action imposed against failing Haredi schools, and legal experts think they may be right.

Though 18 Haredi schools were recently found to be failing to provide adequate instruction in an investigation concluded last month by the New York City Department of Education, a March ruling in New York State Supreme Court limited the state’s ability to act on such findings.

Referring to the city’s investigation, Yiddish newspaper Vochenshrift cited the March ruling, describing it as “a cure before the plague,” leaving the government unable to enforce education standards. “Thanks to this ruling, it is now clear from all the news reports that there are no declared consequences for schools that don’t comply with the regulations,” the paper added. Similar sentiments were published in Di Tzeitung, another Yiddish newspaper.

Haredi leaders have also touted the ruling as a win for the failing schools. It is a “great salvation,” said Rabbi David Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel, in an interview with Yiddish-language broadcaster Kol Mevaser shortly after the ruling.

The March ruling asserted that New York State may not close failing private schools, withhold funding from them, or require parents to withdraw their children from them. It came in response to a lawsuit brought by several Haredi organizations and schools. In her ruling, New York Supreme Court Judge Cristina Ryba said state law “does not authorize or contemplate the imposition of penalties or other consequences upon a nonpublic school that has been found to not provide substantially equivalent education.” A spokesperson for the New York State Education Department told Shtetl it plans to appeal the ruling. 

But Ryba’s ruling does not forestall all government intervention regarding failing schools.

Specifically, Ryba’s ruling differentiates between what New York State is allowed to do under its education law, and what it may require cities, local school districts, and parents to do. The ruling says the state is not allowed to impose penalties on individual private schools, but is allowed to impose penalties on cities and local school districts, and parents.

Nevertheless, experts did not think that this left the state with many strong options for enforcement.

David Bloomfield, an education law professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, told Shtetl in a phone interview that the ruling leaves room for the state to enforce standards on private schools through the local school districts. For example, the state could withhold funding from a school district that has failing private schools and “the city would then go against the nonpublic school,” Bloomfield explained. Hasidic boys’ schools received more than $1 billion in government funding over a four-year period, according to the New York Times.

The experts also addressed the ruling’s claim that state law requires parents, not schools, to ensure a child receives a quality education.

Under the ruling, “a parent has an obligation to make sure the child receives education that is substantially equivalent to what the child would receive in public school,” Helfand said. “A child goes to an institution, and if that education in and of itself can’t satisfy the substantial equivalency requirements, then the parent would have to supplement them in order to get them to cross the threshold.” That supplemental education could be fulfilled by another educational institution, tutoring, or home schooling.

If parents don’t provide this instruction outside of a failing school, the state could theoretically sue those parents. But Bloomfield said it’s “unimaginable” that the state would ever take such a drastic step.

An unsigned editorial in Di Tzeitung expressed optimism that the court ruling left the state unable to actually enforce standards by going after parents:

“No one imagines that the state can initiate criminal charges against thousands or tens of thousands of parents,” the article read. “No district attorney would want to sully themselves with that kind of undertaking, and, of course, no judge… would penalize Haredi parents for not wanting to send their children to the public school education system.”

Michael Helfand, a law professor at Pepperdine University, also thought the possibility of enforcing laws by suing large numbers of individual parents was impractical. “Maybe the state would try to engage in selective enforcement,” Helfand added. “But as a practical matter, it may turn out to be that the parents don’t face consequences.”

Read more in Shtetl: NYC redacted the names of 14 failing Yeshivas. Shtetl has the list.