“Educators at a boys yeshiva said Tuesday that the state’s guidelines for a substantially equivalent education would be prohibitive to their students’ studies.
“It infringes on our religious rights,” said Rabbi Moshe Schwab, the principal of Yeshiva Degel HaTorah. “We’re begging the commissioner to reconsider because … it’s going to infringe on the good educational system that we have. We know we have to have equivalency and we think we not only have equivalent, we’re superior.”
His pleas were targeted at a previously ignored 70-year-old law stating private school education needs to be “substantially equivalent” to public school, which gained traction a few years ago when state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia updated guidelines to enforce it.
In April the law was thrown into the spotlight when state Sen. Simcha Felder held up the budget and got an amendment stating that the education commissioner will determine if schools are providing a “substantially equivalent” education that includes the entirety of the curriculum instead of just secular studies.
Elia released the revised guidelines in November, stating substantial equivalency for private schools means “a program is comparable in content and educational experience,” to public schools, “but it may differ in method of delivery and format.”
Schools, which must be inspected by district superintendents before the end of 2021, that are found to be non-compliant could face sanctions that could close the school.
Schwab was joined by several faculty members at the school Tuesday at a news conference organized by county Legislator Aron Wieder, who has been a vocal opponent of the guidelines.
However, advocates of enforcement of the state law say a lack of proper academic education makes it difficult for yeshiva students to pursue higher education or careers and puts them at a higher risk of dependence on government assistance.
Chief among those advocates is Naftuli Moster of New City, whose organization Young Advocates for Fair Education has argued that the lack of secular education is problematic.
But Schwab said at Tuesday’s news conference that the quality of the students’ secular education is excellent, and if they increased the time spent on secular studies to fit the new guidelines, it would deteriorate the quality of the entire curriculum.
Wieder asked Elia to reconsider enforcing these guidelines.
“If they have to follow the guidelines that the commissioner has put into place, the entire structure of the school has to be redone, and it’s not going to be at all similar to what they have right now,” Wieder said. “If the commissioner was serious about the education, all she had to do is say a school has to have the children take the Regents exam. That’s all she has to do. Why suffocate schools with guidelines?”
To read the complete Journal News coverage with videos of the press conference, click here.