Guest editorial by Ian Diamond
For everyone who cares about education and the safety of children, the state Senate flip to Democratic control brings a new day in New York.
For years the Republican majority, led by Sen. John Flanagan of Long Island, has stalled important progressive bills. Flanagan and the Republican majority have been catering to powerful voting blocs and wealthy political contributors to the detriment of some of the most vulnerable and aggrieved people in our state.
At the behest of the private school lobby, Flanagan blocked the Child Victims Act, a bill that would help victims of childhood sexual abuse seek justice. The act would have extended the statute of limitations on prosecuting those who sexually abuse children.
Flanagan, backed by the Republican majority, disenfranchised thousands of minority students in the East Ramapo School District by refusing to give veto power to a state-appointed monitor. The monitor was put in place by the state Department of Education to protect the rights of the mostly African American and Latino students who attend the public schools in the district. Flanagan, however, would not allow the monitor to have authority to override the decisions of a school board with a long history of financially dubious decisions that favor private schools.
The most flagrant abuse of power occurred last spring when Sen. Simcha Felder, D-Brooklyn, was allowed to hijack the budget process in order to dilute state requirements for private school equivalency in secular studies like math, science and English. Felder blocked passage of the budget until an exemption to equivalency standards was carved out specifically designed for yeshivas. Many believe the Felder amendment to New York State educational guidelines is unconstitutional and jeopardizes the education of thousands of students.
In order to ensure that private, religious schools provide their students with secular instruction that is “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools, district-level administrators need clear protocols for oversight. For many years, due to political pressure from special-interest groups, NYSED has balked at providing clear and specific guidelines. Educational equity activists are hopeful that under the new regime such a mandate will be forthcoming and will empower public school officials to evaluate secular instruction in private schools. This could help to guarantee that all students are provided with the education they need to become informed, self-sufficient members of the community.
For too long the Republican majority in the New York State Legislature has put politics before children, and the people of New York have had enough. I am hopeful that our Democratic majority in the state Legislature will revoke the outrageous Felder amendment, pass the Child Victims Act, protect the students of East Ramapo, and establish clear requirements for secular studies in private schools. Our future depends on it.
The writer is a Sloatsburg resident.