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Quebec court rejects ex-Hasidic couple’s suit over lack of secular education in yeshivas

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Quebec Supreme Court

A lawsuit brought by a Canadian ex-Hasidic couple who testified in court that they suffered years of underemployment after receiving a substandard secular education in suburban Montreal Hasidic schools has been tossed out, according to a report in the National Post.

On Thursday, Quebec Superior Court Justice Martin Castonguay rejected the lawsuit, which Yohanan Lowen and his wife Shifra Lowen filed in 2015, and which sought to force Quebec province to better enforce educational standards in private schools. (Shifra Lowen has written for the Forverts.)

In his ruling, Castonguay wrote that while he had “profound sympathy” for the couple, he found that the issues in the case had been addressed in the years since the Lowens left the Hasidic community.

In support of his decision, Castonguay cited laws enacted in 2017 that gave the government more tools to inspect schools that do not provide an adequate secular education and intervene when a child’s education is found to be being neglected. He also wrote that a new program allowing Hasidic parents to register their children as homeschoolers with local school boards, ensuring that they receive additional secular education, had been successful. The National Post did not explain how Justice Castonguay measured the program’s efficacy.

The Lowens originally filed their lawsuit against the government of Quebec five years after leaving their Hasidic community in 2010. Their home community, the Tash Hasidim, is headquartered in Boisbriand, a suburb of Montreal. Among Hasidic Jews, it is known as one of the most insular and conservative communities in North America.

In February, Shifra Lowen testified in the Quebec Superior Court that when her husband graduated from yeshiva at age 18, he could not read English or French. The couple blamed Quebec authorities for failing to ensure that Hasidic yeshivas meet provincial educational standards.

While the Lowens stated that they have struggled financially due to a lack of adequate secular education, their case did not seek monetary damages. Instead, they aimed to have the court impose a declaratory judgment ensuring that the province enforces stricter educational standards in private schools.

At the February trial, Quebec child welfare officer Marie-Josée Bernier testified that many Hasidic children suffer from “educational neglect,” noting that they are unable to speak French and have only a rudimentary command of English.

A 2014 investigation by Quebec’s youth protection services determined that 280 out of 320 boys in the Hasidic education system who were examined were “developmentally compromised,” with some unable to read a menu or count change.

It is unclear if the Lowens plan to appeal the ruling. Their case echoes longstanding efforts by graduates of Hasidic schools in New York to see the state provide more oversight of secular education in private religious schools.

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