NYS would give private schools and yeshivas options to show equivalency
The regulations would allow Commissioner Rosa to investigate non-compliance by private schools and, after giving them the opportunity to comply, sanction them, including the loss of state aid.
After years of deliberation, the state Department of Education is proposing that private schools, including ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, be allowed several options to show that their academic instruction is “substantially equivalent” to public schools, as required by state law.
Most private schools in New York State could avoid inspections of their curriculum if the proposed regulations were passed.
Since 2016, the state has sought a system to enforce the century-old law, despite widespread concern and opposition from religious schools.
A common objection was that public school officials, who would be responsible for reviewing private schools in their districts, would be ill-equipped to do so, might infringe on private schools’ religious rights, and in effect compete with private schools to students. .
A draft regulation published Thursday by state education commissioner Betty Rosa would allow private schools to meet their academic requirements without those exams, “easing some of that burden,” according to a state memo.
An alternative would be for private schools to use state-approved tests to show student progress in core subjects like science, math, social studies and English. These tests would include state Regents exams, state elementary and middle school exams, and many private assessments prepared.
Private schools that obtain state-recognized accreditation and state-approved private special education schools are also among the schools that can avoid a curriculum review.
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Agudath Israel, an advocacy group for Orthodox Jews, on Thursday praised the state’s efforts but said it was dismayed that the proposed regulations still fail to recognize the educational value of religious studies when determining substantial equivalence. .
“For a yeshiva to be judged on the quality of its educational program without considering these religious studies would be a cruel travesty of the examination process,” the group said in a statement. “By ignoring this essential element of yeshiva education, the proposed new regulations could require yeshiva to make major changes to their school hours to be considered substantially equivalent. This is completely unacceptable.”
Private schools that do not use a new option to show compliance with state law would still be subject to academic reviews by their public school district. The state memo says these reviews would be conducted in a manner that is “sensitive and respectful of non-public school communities. This includes a focus on opportunities for students in non-public schools to learn basic skills and to progress in their studies.
The memo added that “teaching programs in non-public schools do not need to demonstrate perfect congruence between public and non-public school education.”
The regulations would allow Rosa to investigate non-compliance by private schools and, after giving them the opportunity to comply, sanction them, including with a loss of state aid.
Rosa, in a statement Thursday, said the state has a legal obligation to “ensure that all students receive an education that enables them to realize their potential and teaches them the skills and knowledge necessary to contribute to the society and participate in civic life.
Existing private schools would not have to be reviewed until the end of the 2023-24 school year. New private schools that open after the regulations come into effect would have to be reviewed within two years.
Private schools should be reviewed after seven years.
School districts that don’t meet their obligations to review private schools by the end of 2023-24 could lose state assistance.
The proposed regulations will be presented to the state board for consideration at their meeting on Monday. The board would be on track to approve them this fall.
Former state education commissioner MaryEllen Elia in 2016 began a review of how the state might enforce the Substantial Equivalence Act, on the books since 1895, over concerns that which the most traditional Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, especially for boys, did not include much. academic instruction.
Most of these yeshivas are in New York and Rockland County. Elia became familiar with the East Ramapo school district, where a wide range of yeshivas educate some 30,000 children, as the state had placed monitors in the public school system.
An advocacy group, YAFFED, has raised public awareness on the issue, demanding that the state force yeshivas to give students a full academic education. The group has drawn the ire of Orthodox Jewish groups like Agudath Israel.
Naftuli Moster, founder and chief executive of Yaffed, said he “cautiously hoped” the regulations would ensure all students had a legally required education.
“What we have always advocated for is an effective enforcement mechanism that supports current state law,” he said in a statement. “Knowledge is a birthright. Every child has the right to a full education.”
The state’s first attempt to produce new law enforcement rules was overturned on procedural grounds by a state court in 2019 after groups representing Jewish, Catholic and other private schools sued the state.
Months later, Elia published proposed new regulations that were quickly dismissed as excessive by private school advocates. After the state Department of Education received more than 140,000 comments on the proposal, the Board of Regents slowed down the process to continue discussions with advocates.
The pandemic has caused further delays, but the Education Department hosted five online forums on the topic in fall 2020.
“Through our strong stakeholder engagement over the past two years, we have listened to all parties, and their feedback is reflected in our proposed new regulations,” Rosa said.
The Department of Education will accept public comments on the proposed new regulations through May 30 at [email protected]