“As the state Education Department begins accepting public comments Wednesday on proposed regulations for private-school instruction, state officials are staying quiet on key components of the regulations that concern advocates for “substantially equivalent” academics in private schools.
The regulations lay out instructional ground that private schools must cover at each level of schooling, from math and science to health education and the visual arts to citizenship and the U.S. Constitution. They are intended to clarify how private schools can comply with state law, which has long required that academic instruction in private schools be substantially equivalent to what’s taught in public schools.
But the proposed regulations include possible concessions to religious schools, particularly Hasidic yeshivas, that have faced criticism for offering limited academic instruction to male students who are focused on religious studies.
The regulations allow for private-school inspectors to consider “integrated curriculum that delivers content by incorporating more than one subject,” according to a June 3 presentation from the state Education Department.
The state also says that the focus of inspections should be academic subjects required by law and not the state’s learning standards for public schools — even though state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has spent years hyping the importance of grade-by-grade learning standards as key to improving education.
When asked for further explanation of an “integrated curriculum” and why the state will not ask private schools to incorporate its learning standards, Education Department officials declined to directly answer the questions.
Instead they released a statement recognizing the need for the review process to be conducted in a “flexible and inclusive manner,” focusing on five core principles, or goals, for the process: objective, mindful, sensitive, respectful and consistent.
The proposed regulations will ensure that all students receive the education to which they are entitled under the law and reflect the subjects that are required under state law,” the statement reads. “The draft regulations provide guidance and we will supplement the regulations as needed through FAQs.”
Some advocates are concerned that such vague language might allow private schools to find loopholes around teaching all required subjects.
“The state is underestimating the intentions of the yeshiva leaders, which is why we say that it has to be even clearer,” said Naftuli Moster, the founder and executive director of YAFFED, Young Advocates for Fair Education, which is focused on this issue. “Otherwise, it’s basically an invitation to people to mess around.”
The “substantial equivalency” requirement has been part of state law since 1895, according to the Education Department. But academic instruction in private schools received little attention until YAFFED and others began calling for the state and New York City to intervene at Hasidic yeshivas that teach minimal secular material, arguing that lax instruction will lead to poverty and unemployment.
Most of these yeshivas are located in Brooklyn and Rockland County.
Moster said he hopes the final version of the regulations will be clear “that saying that you can combine different subjects … does not give schools the right to teach Judaic studies, and then just try to retroactively interpret it as though they are really secular.”
The state’s public comment period will run through Sept. 2. It is expected that the state Board of Regents will consider approving the regulations in the fall. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Read the complete Journal News coverage along with video here.