Feb 2, 2024 3:45 PM
Several dozen Haredi leaders met Wednesday in Borough Park amid rising urgency in their battle against state regulations for nonpublic schools. Two new amicus briefs have also been filed this week in anticipation of a looming court date.
The event, which was described by Haredi media as an “urgent meeting,” was organized by PEARLS, or Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, and included numerous heads of Haredi educational institutions as well as attorneys and activists, according to multiple Haredi media outlets. As they struggle to find consensus on the issue, Haredi yeshiva leaders have been debating how best to oppose efforts by the state to enforce new regulations. The meeting took place at the Ateres Chynka hall, and included representatives from a broad cross-section of Hasidic and Haredi schools in Brooklyn, including those of Satmar, Bobov, Vizhnitz, Belz, Skver, Gur, and others.
The effort, which is being spearheaded by PEARLS with strong backing from the Zalmanite Satmar faction, comes in anticipation of oral arguments scheduled for late March in New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department.
The appeal was filed in October by New York State Attorney General Lettia James, after a ruling last March by New York State Supreme Court Justice Christina Ryba invalidated specific provisions in new regulations that would’ve given the state stronger authority to enforce the law requiring nonpublic schools to provide an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools.
Two amicus briefs were also filed this week by organizations on opposite sides of the issue.
On Monday, YAFFED, an organization that advocates for improved secular studies in Haredi yeshivas, filed a brief in support of the appeal, arguing that yeshivas are asking the court to force the state to “financially support religious indoctrination.”
The group also focused on the issue of home instruction, which PEARLS has argued should be allowed as a supplement to the yeshiva curriculum. In its filing, YAFFED argued that such latitude would effectively grant yeshivas carte blanche to evade the issue of educational requirements altogether. Referring to the IHIP system, or Individualized Home Instruction Plan, YAFFED said, it “was never intended to become a stopgap solution to relieve schools of their regulatory burden.”
In response, front-page headlines this week in Der Yid, a leading Yiddish-language Hasidic newspaper, accused YAFFED of “inciteful accusations” against the Haredi community, and mocked it for “crocodile tears” on behalf of students.
A brief opposing the appeal was submitted on Wednesday by Oholei Torah, which describes itself as “the flagship Yeshiva of the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch movement.” In its brief, Oholei Torah claimed that it “provides children with an exceptional and rigorous education,” and pointed to a Congressional Gold Medal awarded posthumously to the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, for “40 years of outstanding and lasting contributions toward improvements in world education.”
Last June, the state determined Oholei Torah’s educational curriculum to be inadequate. Shtetl has also learned from multiple former students of Oholei Torah that the yeshiva provides no secular studies instruction at all.
In July, the New York State Education Department released guidelines on “substantial equivalency,” for interpreting regulations adopted by the state in September 2022. The new guidelines were to help officials ensure that nonpublic schools comply with state education laws, and to provide nonpublic schools with a list of pathways to choose from in order to demonstrate compliance with the law.
While some of the pathways allow schools considerable independence, and may allow them to bypass a review by the local school district, many yeshivas have still expressed opposition to any oversight by the state. Some leaders, including Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, head of the Satmar Aaronite faction, have openly called to defy the state laws. While other Haredi leaders have expressed willingness to select one of the available pathways, they have yet to settle on a consensus over which pathway to select.