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New York Moves to Force Its Values on Religious Schools: Parochial School Leaders and Homeschool Families Alarmed

09-13-2019
ultra-Orthodox Judaism
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The New York Department of Education is moving to force all private schools in the state to perform as public schools. The department is reevaluating a 125-year-old law that would require private schools to offer the equivalent instruction to students as required in public schools. 

This means all private schools' curriculum, scheduling, lesson plans, hiring standards, and reporting requirements would have to follow all regulations as required by the state for public schools. The new regulations would also give the power to local school districts to oversee and inspect private and parochial schools. If a school was found lacking in compliance with the proposed regulations, the school could be closed. 

The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a non-profit legal defense organization, represents Parents Union for Religious Integrity of Torah Education (PURITE). The parents and rabbis who sought PJI's assistance practice ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Judaism. They have been training their youth in small religious schools known as yeshivas for thousands of years. The schools instruct in subjects such as math and English language while focusing primarily on the Torah and Talmud. 

PURITE notes that the proposed regulations would essentially outlaw their way of life and education. Parochial school leaders and homeschool families are also concerned about the suggested rules. 

PJI attorney Kevin Snider sent a letter last week to the New York Department of Education, which had been accepting public comment. Snider's letter explains in some detail the conflict between Torah-based education and the goals of NY public schools.

The letter also explains the similarities between the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic way of life and Amish culture. In 1972, the US Supreme Court overturned the convictions of Amish and Mennonite parents who had been fined for non-compliance with Wisconsin's compulsory education laws. That precedent remains in place today.

Meanwhile, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), affiliated with the ACLU, sent a letter complaining that the proposed regulations by the Empire State do not go far enough.

"If religious freedom and tolerance are to continue as a bedrock of American life, we must allow parents to choose a religious education for their children," said Brad Dacus, president of PJI in a press release. 

The New York Department of Education is now considering comments received from the public. The department is expected to announce further action later this year. 

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