New York – Three months after the New York State Education Department announced new regulations that would require all nonpublic schools to drastically increase the amount of secular education provided to students or face serious consequences, high ranking state officials have been slapped with a lawsuit charging them with overstepping their legal boundaries and violating the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion.
Board of Regents chancellor Betty Rosa and SED commissioner Maryellen Elia found themselves in the crosshairs of the 50 page lawsuit filed on Thursday in State Supreme Court in Albany.
The suit was brought by Agudath Israel of America, Torah Umesorah, Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, several parents, and five yeshivos that have all been operating continuously in New York City for over a century – Mesivta Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem, Rabbi Jacob Joseph School and Yeshiva Ch’san Sofer.
The lawsuit challenged the state’s authority to issue regulations that would define substantial equivalency and slammed the SED for releasing the new guidelines without following proper procedure as defined in state law.
It categorized the new requirements as rigid, noting that state courts have upheld private schools’ right to create flexible curriculums that can vary from district to district and criticized the state’s decision to empower local public school districts to evaluate private school performance and compliance as “an abuse of discretion.”
The lawsuit also charged the state with violating parents’ constitutionally guaranteed right to provide their children with a religious education and requested a stay that would prevent the SED from implementing the new rules while the case is being heard.
A formal injunction detailing serious questions regarding the guidelines’ legality is expected to be filed next week, said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America.
“We think that the SED acted beyond the scope of its authority and are hoping that the courts will tell them that they can’t do that,” Rabbi Zwiebel, told VIN News.
The lawsuit is the second to be brought against the state this week, reported the Wall Street Journal (https://on.wsj.com/2SQDsBa). The New York State Association of Independent Schools filed a similar lawsuit seeking to dissolve the new guidelines on Tuesday on behalf of its 196 member schools, which include multiple elite New York City academic institutions.
“At the core of our independence is our ability to create our curriculum,” said Mark Lauria, executive director of the NYSAIS. “This cute to the core of what our schools do.”
As previously reported on VIN News (http://bit.ly/2XMV8Sb), Catholic schools were the first to publicly decry the new guidelines, announing their intention to boycott the regulations last December.
“The parents who choose our schools can have great confidence in the academic rigor of our schools,” said James Cultara, executive secretary of the Council of Catholic School Superintendents which represents approximately 500 schools.
“We simply cannot accept a competing school having authority over whether our schools can operate.”