A carve-out in a state law passed this year as an amendment to the state education budget that exempts ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools from meeting minimum educational standards violates the establishment clause of the Constitution, an advocacy group alleges in a suit filed on Monday.
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, representing the Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED) group, which advocates for improving educational curricula in ultra-Orthodox schools, alleges in a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York that the amendment effectively creates a “dual oversight” regime for yeshivas and for nonpublic schools in New York, which are required to give instruction that is “substantially equivalent” of that provided to public schools students.
Quinn Emanuel partner Eric Huang, who was also present for the news conference, said his clients would consider filing a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the law from taking effect. Quinn Emanuel is taking the case on a pro bono basis.
“If the law is allowed to stand it will stand in the way of progress,” Huang said.
The amendment to exempt ultra-Orthodox schools from standards placed on other nonpublic schools was proposed by state Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who represents a swath of central Brooklyn that includes the predominantly Jewish neighborhoods of Midwood and Borough Park, and who caucuses with the Senate Republicans.
A spokesperson for Felder’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
Many of the 115,000 students who attend ultra-Orthodox schools in New York receive substandard secular instruction in their schools, the suit alleges.
Pesach Eisen, who attended yeshiva in Borough Park, said that his school provided little in the way of secular education while he was a child, and virtually none at all after he turned 13.
Eisen said this left him ill-prepared for adulthood: he didn’t know how to fill out a resume, for example, and didn’t know what taxes are. He received remedial education and is working toward a master’s degree, but he said some others in his predicament ended up following a “dark path.”
“We went through the Hasidic education system and have the scars to show for it,” said Eisen while spoke at a news conference on Monday at Quinn Emanuel’s offices.
Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo’s office, said on Monday afternoon that the office would “respond accordingly” to the lawsuit and said that the legislation at the heart of the dispute was intended to find a balance between the needs of yeshivas and state educational standards.
“Earlier this year in the budget, the legislature passed a law that sought to balance the unique needs of yeshivas with the high educational standards we require for every New York student, and we remain committed to achieving that balance,” Azzopardi said.
Following the news conference, Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, a yeshiva educational organization that is not involved with the lawsuit, issued a statement to contest YAFFED’s portrayal of yeshivas, saying that the descriptions provided in the group’s suit are limited to a small sample collected through the group’s Facebook page and that the group mischaracterizes the majority of yeshivas.
“The city’s Department of Education and the state Education Department are familiar with the curriculum in our schools,” the statement reads. “We are confident that those who have made education their lifework will not be swayed by the inaccurate picture today’s lawsuit portrays.”