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Jewish group wins New York State supreme court case on school transportation

Judge says district must transport non-public students to schools on all days they’re open, including public holidays; rules statewide guidelines ‘null and void’

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

Illustrative: In this September 20, 2013 file photo, children and adults cross a street in front of a school bus in Borough Park, a neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York that is home to many ultra-Orthodox Jewish families. (AP/Bebeto Matthews, File)
Illustrative: In this September 20, 2013 file photo, children and adults cross a street in front of a school bus in Borough Park, a neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York that is home to many ultra-Orthodox Jewish families. (AP/Bebeto Matthews, File)

NEW YORK — A New York judge on Thursday ruled that a school district must provide transportation for non-public school students on days that public schools are closed, in a win for the state’s Jewish ultra-Orthodox community.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Peter Lynch said the Washingtonville School District had violated education law by refusing to provide transportation to non-public school students on days public schools were closed.

Lynch also ruled that state education department guidance saying school districts only needed to provide non-public students with transportation on public school days was “null and void,” meaning the decision could have wider implications for religious schools in New York, if it holds up following likely appeals.

Lynch said the school district must permanently provide transportation to non-public schools “on all days they are open for instruction.”

The policy had been supported and defended by the state education department. State law requires school districts to transport children to private schools within 15 miles of their homes.

The case, United Jewish Community of Blooming Grove v. Washingtonville Central School District and the New York State Education Department, was filed in July by a group representing ultra-Orthodox families.

The plaintiffs said the ruling applies to 21 days of the year for the area schools.

The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council said the ruling may affect some 170,000 Jewish students in the state, and around 400,000 total students, and called on the state’s Board of Regents to take action.

The ruling will already have an impact next week on the days before and after Thanksgiving, when public schools are closed but religious Jewish schools in the area are open.

Rabbi Yeruchim Silber of the Agudath Israel Orthodox Jewish group called the ruling “a victory not just for non-public schools in Washingtonville School District, but for all non-public schools and their students throughout the entire state.”

The case was the latest in years of disputes between the Jewish communities in the area, including the Satmar village of Kiryas Joel, and the public school system.

On Monday, New York State’s Education Department announced a plan to update regulations enforcing secular education in non-public schools, which could have major implications for the state’s ultra-Orthodox schools.

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