ALBANY, New York (AP) — Parents cannot be required to pull their children from private schools in New York that fail to meet state-designated standards, a judge decided Friday, striking down a key provision of rules recently passed to strengthen oversight of such schools, including those specializing in religious education.
The ruling in a state trial court in Albany came in response to a lawsuit brought by Haredi Jewish schools, called yeshivas, and related advocacy groups over education rules enacted last fall. Under the rules, the state’s 1,800 private and religious schools must provide an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that of a public school.
Opponents in the Haredi community say the rules improperly target yeshivas, some of which focus intently on religious instruction with far less teaching in secular subjects such as English, math and science.
The issue has become a major flashpoint for the Haredi community in New York, amid a series of prominent, controversial articles by The New York Times attacking the school system.
Judge Christina Ryba on Thursday rejected an argument that the state regulations were unconstitutional. But she said state officials overstepped their authority in setting penalties for schools that don’t adhere to them.
Specifically, she said education officials lack legal authority to make parents take their children out of schools that fall short of the requirements, and they don’t have the authority to order that those schools be closed.
Ryba said parents of those children could still receive required instruction in combination with sources, such as homeschooling.
A co-plaintiff cheered the judge’s rejection of the “draconian penalties.”
“In striking those provisions of the regulations, the Court agreed with parents and non-public schools across New York State who opposed these regulations,” read a prepared statement from the group Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS).
Yaffed, a group that supports reforming yeshivas, said it was concerned by parts of the new ruling.
“We worry that Hasidic yeshivas will continue to benefit from the extraordinary amount of funding available to them without fulfilling their obligations to the children,” said Beatrice Weber, Yaffed’s executive director.
The state Education Department said the decision validates its commitment to improving the educational experience for all students.
“We remain committed to ensuring students who attend school in settings consistent with their religious and cultural beliefs and values receive the education to which they are legally entitled,” read the prepared statement.
It was not clear if any aspects of the ruling would be appealed.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.