Judge Hears Arguments in Yeshiva Lawsuit But Issues No Ruling

A state judge poked and prodded New York state’s attorney’s arguments at a hearing she called to decide whether to temporarily halt the education department guidelines that would potentially devastate the traditional yeshiva format in New York.

Judge Christina L. Ryba did not issue a ruling immediately on the request by the yeshiva, Catholic and independent schools systems to order an emergency injunction. The three school systems filed separate lawsuits, but the judge consolidated them into a single one for the purposes of the hearing.

Ryba, of the Albany Supreme Court, appeared skeptical at the state’s arguments, presented by an assistant attorney general, that the guidelines mandating nearly 18 hours of secular instruction a week were actually in force since the original law governing nonpublic schools was enacted 120 years ago.

“There were no checklists until now,” the judge noted, according to someone present in the court. “There were no requirements for public hearings. This is not old. This is new.”

There was a back-and-forth at one point that yeshivah advocates were pointing to as evidence that the state’s goal is not merely to regulate private schools but to fundamentally change their character.

The dialogue began when Avi Schick, attorney for the yeshivos, told the judge that parents should have a right to send to a school that aligns with his lifestyle.

“A parent may decide that he doesn’t want to send to a school that teaches theater or dance,” Schick said, referring to two of the subjects that would be mandated if the new standards were to become part of the yeshiva curriculum.

The state’s attorney seized on this comment. “That’s right,” he said. “This is why the state has the obligation to come in and make sure that the schools teach theater and dance.”

The person in the courtroom said that the three plaintiffs representing the school streams each had different arguments against the guidelines. But they cooperated closely in the request for an emergency halt, arguing that the local school board were already inspecting them and filling out the checklist.

“All three petitioners presented their cases well,” the person said. “Everything was well-coordinated. But the judge picked up on these two things, the public hearings and the checklist.”

There is no timetable for the judge to publicize her decision, although attorneys with the plaintiffs said that it is expected that she did not rule right away.