Orthodox Jews Pushing Back Against NY Trying To Snatch Religious Freedom

By Mark Gruber | Friday, 10 June 2022 05:15
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A group of religious schools in the city, including a large number of yeshivas, are opposing new oversight policy they feel will violate their rights to provide children with an education.

The schools have sent 180,000 letters to the education department Tuesday vying for draft guidelines for new estimates on the religious institutions.

While state officials argue that the oversight will provide students with fair education, the schools say the actions impede their capacity to give religious education to Jewish children.

Under the proposal, nonpublic schools would need to get accredited, or register through the state, or show academic progress on state-approved exams. Schools that do not comply must submit to inspection by their local school districts.

“We have done a magnificent job in educating our children,” Aaron Twerski, a Brooklyn Law School professor and Yeshiva parent, wrote to state officials. “They are deeply religious, highly disciplined, hard-working and industrious.”

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He added: “What you propose is an assault on the Orthodox and Chassidic. Your oversight is not needed and is not welcome.”

Other Jewish leaders were grateful for what they argued was non-intrusive oversight for yeshivas that have been chastised for lacking basic education.

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“These regulations need to be seriously tightened in order for them to satisfy our concerns,” said Naftuli Moster, head of the nonprofit Young Advocates For Fair Education. “But they’re certainly a step in the right direction.”

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Moster claimed that there was pressure at some yeshivas to submit public comments. The group also raised concerns about misinformation in the community.

“If they haven’t gotten your comment, you are automatically deemed suspicious,” said Moster. “Multiple parents have told me ‘my comment is in that big pile because I was afraid.'”

The suggested guidelines are another effort by the education department to guarantee that independent and parochial schools legally must provide an education that is at least “substantially equivalent” to what is offered in the public school sector.

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Previous endeavors at more oversight were met with resistance from a wide array of independent school groups, from elite Manhattan private schools to Catholic schools.

“Catholic schools are the very model for education in America, and we have the test scores and graduation rates to prove it,” said Superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York Michael Deegan. “While we welcome most any measurement of our rigorous academics, we remain concerned with the notion of local school districts being empowered in any way to be the arbiters of such scrutiny.”

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The Archdiocese added they are confident in the state education department to “strike a balance” between the schools and state standards.

“As the Board of Regents surely understands, parents dig deep into their pockets to educate their children in private schools precisely because they want their children to have an educational experience that is substantially different from — not substantially equivalent to — the experience they would have in public school,” wrote Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of Council for American Private Education.

“It is important to recall that even without overly prescriptive governmental regulation, private schools are already accountable to those who hold ultimate authority over them: their parent bodies,” the letter adds. “If parents are dissatisfied with the education their child is receiving in a private school, they are perfectly free to vote with their feet and enroll their child in another school.”

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