Leaders of religious schools in New York state, who long have operated under the same requirements as public schools, say they will not cooperate with strict new guidelines enforced by local school-district officials.
But no one is fooled by the state Department of Education’s new guidelines on how “religious and independent schools” operate, said the government watchdog Judicial Watch.
“The changes are aimed right at New York City’s freewheeling Orthodox Jewish seminaries, known as yeshivas,” Judicial Watch said. “More than 100,000 students attend yeshivas in New York City.”
The standard of “substantial equivalency” in education has been around since the 19th century. It allows private schools to educate their students as they see fit, provided the education is “substantially equivalent” to public schools.
But the state says those days are over.
“The new guidelines change the equation. Math must be taught every day. English, science, and social studies must be taught,” Judicial Watch said.
“Schools must provide samples of teaching schedules, textbooks, and lesson plans. Non-compliant schools risk withdrawal of funding for things like textbooks and transportation, and students ultimately could be forced to go to another school. Students that resist transfer risk being declared ‘truant’ and legal steps to challenge parental competency could follow. The new mandates will be enforced by inspections from local school district officials.”
The state already has announced “training” sessions for “nonpublic school leaders” so they can follow the new secular mandates.
“Every child has a fundamental right to receive a quality education,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa said in a statement. “By providing these resources on the substantial equivalency of instruction in nonpublic schools, we are providing public and nonpublic school leaders with a roadmap to conduct these reviews. The process should be a collaborative effort that is a mutually beneficial learning process for leaders of both public and nonpublic schools resulting in appropriate educational opportunities for the children they serve.”
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said that while “parents have a right to choose a nonpublic school,” she wants to make sure the students are taught what the state wants.
The state will assess whether religious or independent schools offer an adequate education.
Then changes will be made as needed.
But the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York warned that in recent decades the “constitutional barriers” set up by the Founders “against the all-powerful state have been progressively eroding.”
“Enormous powers have been delegated to or seized by executive agencies that rule by decree and operate with virtually no effective oversight by legislatures, courts, or the people. This has been the source of unending political and legal conflict in numerous areas, including environmental and economic regulations, education, health care, and many others,” wrote Ed Mechmann for the archdiocese.
Now the bull’s-eye is on religious schools, he said, “with the clear intention of either forcing them to submit to its authority or face destruction.”
The state’s plan, he warned, “gives local public school boards broad power to inspect, oversee and intrude upon the independence of private religious schools.”
“It would impose burdensome and costly requirements, such as a mandatory bilingual program and extended school hours. It would subject the curriculum and materials to government inspection and approval. It would even require private school teachers to be evaluated by the government. No objective standards are set out in the directives, leaving broad discretion in the hands of local school boards. Any private school that fail this inspection will be forced to close.
“This would give local school boards virtually unlimited power over private religious schools. There is no protection against government officials who are hostile to religious schools or who just want to eliminate the competition. One can only imagine the kinds of curricula and materials that school boards could mandate – such as the wicked sex education required in the New York City public schools, which includes graphic instruction on sex and gender ideology as young as kindergarten.”
Mechmann said such schools already have a name – public schools. It is private schools that exist to offer an alternative for parents who “don’t want to send their kids to public schools.”
A statement from the New York State Council of Catholic School Superintendents, which represents 500 Catholic schools, unequivocally denounced the plan.
Even some parts of government have reacted negatively to the plan. Officials in Kings County fired off a letter to the state warning it is on a slippery slope with its “unprecedented incursion into private schools curricula.”
“This is a state infringement on private schools that affect 2,000 private schools and 500,000 students across the state,” said Chaim Deutsch, a member of the local council. “Private school should be able to run on their own. The state should not be telling private schools how to run their schools.”
His group of lawmakers wrote to the state: “Private, religious schools provide a much-utilized service to New Yorkers of faith who aim to provide their children with both a secular and a religious education. These parents have the legal right to choose private schools for their children, and they often pay hefty tuition rates to ensure that their child is receiving the best possible standard of education. It is our perspective that the guidelines released by your department overstep into attempting to have private schools become curricular clones of the public schools.”
Two Orthodox Jewish educators said in the Wall Street Journal that the state’s demands would require so much time “that it crowds out Torah study, our sacred mission.”
Judicial Watch said: “School inspections are slated to begin in February. The yeshiva establishment says they won’t cooperate with inspectors, ditto from New York’s Catholic school leadership. That’s going to be a big problem. New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza told the New York Times he’s starting the inspections with yeshivas that have barred city officials or have been noted in complaints about poor education standards. Carranza said the de Blasio administration intends to ‘move aggressively and get this taken care of.’
“Don’t bet on it.”
The watchdog organization explained the disputed began when “dissident former yeshiva students started raising concerns about the quality of their education.”
Judicial Watch explained: “Members of the Orthodox community concede that some yeshivas need improvement. But when you’ve been in business for 1,500 years, give or take a few centuries, change comes slow. And as history as shown, it’s a very bad idea to tell a Jew how to run his religion.”