Gary Stern, Rockland/Westchester Journal News
“State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia talked tough Tuesday when releasing new guidelines for determining whether private schools, namely tradition-bound Hasidic yeshivas, comply with state law for teaching math, ELA and other secular academics.
She made clear that religious schools are expected to understand what’s required of them, to cooperate with investigators, and to make instructional changes that are deemed necessary. Schools that fall short will be given a clear timeline, specific goals and limited support to make improvements.
If private schools continue to fail to comply with state law? The state could take away funding or, if all else fails, request that parents withdraw their children, essentially closing a school.
The commissioner’s office will have final say on whether many Hasidic yeshivas are in compliance.
How this process will play out, though, is anyone’s guess. Initial reviews of whether private schools comply with state law are not due until December 2021, leaving plenty of time for legislative tweaks or political shenanigans. And there’s no new state money supporting the new review process, signaling that existing local school district staff will be stretched to take on additional responsibilities.
The new guidelines keep the onus on public school districts to lead reviews of private schools within their borders — a setup that has not worked in the past. Only a few school systems, like New York City and East Ramapo, are home to most of the state’s Hasidic yeshivas. It’s a tall order for them to tap exiting personnel or consultants to lead reviews of foreign, religious-based curricula, especially if yeshivas don’t want to be reviewed.
It remains to be seen whether yeshivas that suspect they do not comply with state law will cooperate with investigators or, down the line, how yeshivas will respond to requests that they update or improve their secular academic instruction. Yeshiva advocates have resisted the idea that public-school officials or state bureaucrats should be allowed to rule on their instruction without some involvement of Orthodox officials. Some have also insisted that yeshivas will not update instruction without state funding to pay for it — which Elia said is not part of the deal.
What if the state asks parents to remove their children from a yeshiva that is not in compliance with the law, declaring remaining students to be “truant,” but parents simply refuse? This is not a far-fetched scenario in the ultra-Orthodox community,which is highly suspicious of government oversight and “overreach.”
New York City’s recent experience in trying to review academic instruction at yeshivas may hint at what’s to come. City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza said 15 yeshivas did not even let investigators in.
Yeshiva education activist Naftuli Moster, who has been the topic of a lot of criticism and praise for his work with YAFFED, a nonprofit that’s pushing the state to ensure secular education is provided in yeshivas, discusses his work outside Rockland County Court House June 12, 2018 in New City. (Photo: Tania Savayan/The Journal News)
Still, Elia deserves credit for taking on this thorny challenge. State law has long held that private-school instruction must be “substantially equivalent” to what public schools teach, but public schools did not fulfill their responsibility to keep up with what private schools teach (or don’t teach). The state looked the other way until Elia decided to update state guidelines for enforcing the law. She was likely influenced by advocates for better instruction in Hasidic yeshivas, notably Natfuli Moster‘s Young Advocates for Fair Education, and her own extensive experience in East Ramapo.”
Complete coverage from The Journal News can be read here.