NY yeshivas, state officials sued for failing to provide adequate secular education

Julie Wiener

NEW YORK (JTA) — Parents and former students are suing four New York State yeshivas, the state and the local school district for not providing students with an adequate secular education.

The class-action lawsuit was filed Friday in US District Court in Manhattan, The Journal News reported. The seven plaintiffs seek unspecified monetary damages and want the four all-boys Hasidic yeshivas to be required to offer appropriate coursework by next year. The schools are all in the East Ramapo Central School District, a district 50 miles north of New York City where the majority of school board members are haredi Orthodox and the majority of students attend haredi Orthodox yeshivas, rather than public schools.

Advocates for Justice, the public interest law firm that filed the suit, has also filed a separate lawsuit against the school board of the East Ramapo Central School District. A federal civil rights lawsuit, it accuses the board members of diverting public funds to support private religious schools.

The class-action suit filed Friday claims the schools fail to teach boys English, “basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills necessary to enable children to eventually function productively as civil participants.”

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Haredi Orthodox schools for boys generally emphasize Judaic studies, particularly Talmud, whereas girls’ schools, which do not teach Talmud, tend to offer more secular studies and career-training courses.

The suit alleges that yeshivas, state officials and district officials exercised “willful blindness and deliberate refusal to acknowledge that yeshiva students need, require, and are legally entitled to, at the very least, a minimally adequate secular education in addition to their religious education.”

Among the specific complaints outlined in the lawsuit: failing to hire or train qualified teachers, discriminating against boys by providing them with weaker secular education than what was offered to girls, failing to ensure that yeshivas properly used tax dollars designated for secular education.

“Defendants have contributed to … a culture of ignorance that results in the certitude that generations of yeshiva students, once adults, become financially impoverished, have no alternative but to be sustained principally by public benefits,” the complaint says, according to the Journal News.

Advocates for Justice is working in cooperation with Yaffed, an organization pressing for yeshivas to offer better secular education.

Among those named in the lawsuit are New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, the New York State Department of Education and the East Ramapo Board of Education.

According to the Journal News, the East Ramapo district is home to approximately 76 yeshivas in addition to the four named in the suit, which are United Talmudical Academy, Yeshiva Darkei Emunah, Yeshiva Tzion Yosef and Yeshiva Avir Yakov.

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