Published by Matis Glenn in The Hamodia on May 30, 2022.
Supporters of yeshiva education are making their voices known – at least 285,000 of them – to the New York State Department of Education, in opposition to the proposed legislation that would grant the department greater control over Jewish schools.
The new guidelines, the latest in several such attempts over the past 7 years, would force yeshivos to prove “substantial equivalency” to public school education standards (which has been required for decades, but never defined or practically enforced), by either registering as having a Regents program, being accredited by a government-approved accrediting body, or being assessed and deemed compliant by the local school authority. Some yeshivos, particularly high schools which have Regents programs, would be less affected, but almost all elementary schools and Chassidic yeshivos would be unable to function as they currently do.
Also included in the law is a clause that would permit any “persons considering themselves aggrieved” to challenge a school’s status even after being approved by the Department.
Failure to adhere to these requirements would render a school invalid, and a parent of a child attending such a school guilty of truancy – a jailable offense.
State law requires a time period for the public to comment before making the decision, and advocacy groups are not sparing a moment in galvanizing the community and spreading awareness of the threat.
The opportunity for parents and advocates to share their concerns is very powerful, and legally required, says Avrohom Weinstock, chief of staff at Agudath Israel of America. “This public-comment period is legislatively mandated; the Board of Regents must look at our comments before voting on these proposed regulations,” he explained. “We have already shown how effective we can be. Now it is once again the responsibility of each yeshiva parent, student and graduate to spend just a few minutes to stand up for the yeshiva education we pay dearly for, and within which invest our time and kochos for the upbringing of our children.”
The current initiative has already gathered more than twice the amount of individual comments that were collected in 2019, when the Department had proposed standards which sought to regulate specific curriculum and subjects to be taught.
Several organizations have set up online campaigns for people to show their support for yeshivos, including Agudath Israel, PEARLS (Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools), Protectchinuch.com, and truetorahletter.com. Askanim in Kiryas Joel, NY have been amassing letters from community members as well; over 80,000 as of Friday May 27th. An immeasurable amount of private letters have been sent as well; with the deadline of May 31 approaching, the effort is on course to break 300,000 online comments and letters.
“It is interesting to see the opposing comments emanating from every sector of Orthodox Jewry,” said Weinstock. “While Orthodox Jews are far from monolithic in dress, worldview, and practice, they are staunchly united in their assertion that it is parents who should be deciding how their children are educated and raised, not government. What we are seeing here, en masse, is parents asserting those rights.”
The push for new regulations is largely the result of lobbying efforts on the part of disgruntled former members of the Orthdodox community, who have been trying to foist their views on the Jewish community by using the legal system as a tool of force. One particular instigator has started “interventions” aimed at yeshiva parents in the Chassidic community, to “enlighten” them about the importance of dismantling over a hundred years of chinuch in America.
These propositions have been criticized by legal scholars, such as Michael A. Helfand, Law Professor at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law and Visiting Professor at Yale Law School, as well as groups of yeshiva graduates who are professionals in a wide array of fields. A strongly worded letter by Professor Aaron Twerski, a noted law professor and dean of Hofstra Law School, was released to the public recently as well.
The regulations “seek to have the state control and manage all private schools in a way not seen in any state in the country”, Agudah representatives wrote. “There are agitators who claim they speak for a silent majority who support these regulations,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Pinkus, director of Yeshiva Services of Agudath Israel of America. “It’s easy to make hollow claims. For the second time in three years now, seeing the hundreds of thousands of opposition comments flowing in, the facts make this assertion untenable,”