Sunday, November 22, 2015

E. Ramapo yeshiva lawsuit seeks epic changes 

At its root, the federal lawsuit filed last week against several East Ramapo yeshivas and education leaders asks a religious community that venerates tradition to radically change one of the foundations of its communal life.

Filed by a public interest law firm on behalf of seven unnamed plaintiffs who fear retaliation from their communities if they go public, the complaint takes aim at the state, the East Ramapo school district and four Hasidic yeshivas for failing to provide male students with basic secular studies such as English and mathematics.

The suit — a rare legal action for Hasidim, who have their own religious courts — delves into the inner workings of the private religious schools and calls for a number of changes that would fundamentally alter their traditional approach to education.

Among the demands named in the lawsuit are the introduction of secular coursework for up to one-third of the school day, the hiring of "competent" instructors who teach in English; a monitoring and enforcement mechanism; accurate enrollment figures to help determine accountability for taxpayer funds; and an implementation date as soon as September 2016.

Rabbi Mayer Schiller, a Monsey resident and lifelong educator, said that such changes would result in a profound shift.

"They want to have a certain pure limited vision of life. They feel that exposure to these (secular) subjects would hurt that," he said. "Their fears are not unfounded. What would emerge would be something different (than what they are now)."

Schiller believes that change can only come about slowly and from the inside of the community. "I believe there are changes that could be made that would not change the very fabric of the community," Schiller said.

Plaintiffs in the case include families whose children attend yeshivas in the district and former yeshiva students who are now over 18. It comes after various members of the Hasidic community spoke against a lack of secular education in recent months.

"Ultra-Orthodox/Hasidic parents should not have to choose between a religious education and one that will teach their children how to read and write,' said Laura Barbieri of the public interest law firm Advocates for Justice, which filed the suit. "They are entitled to both and the State is obligated to ensure that they receive it."

The complaint alleges that four Hasidic yeshivas in Monsey, Spring Valley and New Square do not teach English, "basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills necessary to enable children to eventually function productively as civil participants."


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