“It looks like the state Education Department’s long-delayed review of academic requirements for private schools will extend into next year.
The state Board of Regents put proposed regulations on the back burner in February so that the Education Department could continue discussions with the private-school community on what became one of the most volatile education issues in New York.
On Monday, the Regents, having largely dropped the matter because of the coronavirus crisis, said it will revive its review by holding six regional meetings across the state. The department will engage leaders of religious and other private schools, as well as public school district leaders who would be required to enforce the regulations that are still under consideration.
A presentation by the Regents said they would essentially start fresh by returning to the heart of the matter: the state’s century-old law that says academic instruction in private schools must be “substantially equivalent” to what public schools teach.
Former state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia began reviewing the law’s requirements in 2016 because of growing concerns that some Hasidic or ultra-Orthodox yeshivas were largely ignoring academic instruction. But the Orthodox Jewish community, along with Catholic and other private school groups, decried the state’s involvement in their instruction.
An initial set of proposed rules to enforce the law were struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2019 for procedural reasons. Elia released proposed regulations months later, but they drew a firestorm of criticism. The Education Department received over 140,000 comments on the regulations before recommending to the Regents this past February that talks be continued with the private school community.
The issue is of primary concern in New York City and Rockland and Orange counties, where most Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox yeshivas are located.
Advocates for increased oversight of private schools say that some yeshiva students are hardly receiving any instruction beyond religious teachings. Naftuli Moster of New City, a leading advocate of state intervention to require academic instruction in private schools, said he was disappointed the Regents did not approve the proposed regulations that they had ample time to review and modify.
“If the Board of Regents and Chancellor Rosa don’t step in, thousands of children in many yeshivas and private schools are guaranteed to go another year or more without a basic education in English, math, science and social studies,” Moster, executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education, said in a statement. “Without this enforceable standard, there is no way to ensure that every child receives the education they are entitled to under the New York State Constitution.”
Monday’s presentation said the Regents would again look at what substantial equivalency means and suggested that the law itself might need to be changed.”
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