Queens’ Orthodox Jewish schools balk at proposed state regulations

Free-Photo via Pixabay.

Free-Photo via Pixabay.

By Victoria Merlino

In the face of potential new regulations from the state, Queens’ Orthodox Jewish private schools, or yeshivas, are concerned about what that would mean for their students. Proponents of the state guidelines say the measures would ensure educational equity in the city.

The New York State Department of Education released potential “substantial equivalency” guidelines for all nonpublic schools in May, which would impose stricter regulations on schools like yeshivas to ensure that students receive a similar education to those in public schools. The regulations will include a review process of nonpublic schools that determine whether their instruction is equivalent, which will require certain subjects be taught at certain grade levels. 

Members of Queens yeshivas, however, are worried that the increased oversight would compromise the values instilled through their religion-based institutions.  

“The Queens community is not willing to sacrifice the education of their children,” Rabbi Yaakov May, head of Yeshiva Tifereth Moshe, told the Eagle. Tifereth Moshe teaches boys from kindergarten through eighth grade. 

May said that his yeshiva was fulfilling the requirements already in place regarding subjects like social studies, science and math, and that Judaic subjects consist of critical thinking skills and analysis, not just prayer.  “The proof of the pudding is the boys,” he said. 

May is afraid the new regulations could jeopardize the moral value system in place in the teaching of the yeshiva, and parents have expressed concerns to May about the regulations.

“Many times the values of a religious institution are not the same values of the society,” he said.  

Yeshivas serve about 57,000 students in New York City, according to The New York Times.

The NYSED tried to push through similar regulations last November, a move that was blocked by the New York Supreme Court after a judge found the department to be in violation of the State Administrative Procedure Act, which mandates how government agencies can enact regulations. 

The department opened a public comment period in May to gauge opinion on the new guidelines. Today is the final day in the public comment period. According to department officials, NYSED has received more than 85,000 comments on the issue, in addition to a number of paper comments that have not been counted. 

Naftuli Moster, executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education, or Yaffed, has been a major crusader for more regulations on yeshivas. Moster grew up in Borough Park and attended yeshivas for his elementary and high school education. He founded Yaffed in 2012 to combat the gaps he saw in his own education, and that of his friends’ educations. 

Moster lodged a complaint with the New York City government in 2015, claiming that the yeshivas’ instruction did not adequately equip students for higher education, according to The New York Times

Moster argues that more government oversight is necessary, regardless of protests from yeshiva administrators. 

“There are many institutions, whether restaurants, child-care providers, and schools who do the right thing regardless of government oversight,” Moster wrote in an email to the Eagle. “That does not obviate the need for such oversight to ensure that ALL are complying and meeting their respective standards”

When asked if he saw a difference in how Queens yeshivas operate compared to others in the state, Moster said that he thought most Queens yeshivas are more compliant with state education requirements than Brooklyn yeshivas, pinning the difference on how there are fewer Hasidic boys’ schools in Queens.of

The public comment period is set to end on Sept. 3, according to the state’s education department officials, and the Board of Regents will consider the new regulations in fall 2019.