Like all private and religious schools, yeshivas are required to provide students with “equivalency of instruction.” But those in New York City at least have failed to do so for many years (“Why Is New York Condoning Illiteracy?” The New York Times, Apr. 4).
I support the right of parents to send their children to schools they alone believe meet their unique needs and interests. The U.S. Supreme Court first affirmed this right in Pierce v. Society of Sisters in 1925 and then again in Wisconsin v. Yoder almost 50 years later. However, this does not exempt such schools from complying with the law. Allowing yeshivas as well as any other private and parochial schools to do so leaves children ill prepared for the realities of life.
Fearful of the charge that they are foes of religious freedom, lawmakers have dragged their feet on forcing compliance. In the meantime, students in these schools are being shortchanged at a time when they are most in need. It’s a scandal that deserves immediate correction. Each passing day leaves students behind their contemporaries in other schools.
What will happen if regular inspections of yeshivas show that the law is being violated? Will they be forced to shut down? The issue is now on display in New York State, where recent legislation carved out special standards for schools with long school days, bilingual programs and nonprofit status in determining if they complied with the law. For the first time, the state education commissioner was given the authority to make that decision.
Adding to the outrage is that yeshivas receive hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding through Title I and Head Start, as well as by state programs like Academic Intervention Services and universal pre-K. The high birth rate among the ultra- Orthodox will only increase the burden on taxpayers. It’s a situation that I believe will lead to litigation.
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