A group of religious schools in the city, including a large number of yeshivas, are pushing back against new oversight rules they feel will infringe upon their rights to provide children with an education.
The schools have sent 180,000 letters to the education department Tuesday opposing draft guidelines for new measures on the religious institutions.
While state officials maintain that the oversight will ensure students a fair education, the schools say the actions hinder their ability to give religious education to Jewish children.
Under the proposal, nonpublic schools would need to get accredited, or register through the state, or demonstrate academic progress on state-approved exams. Schools that do not comply must submit to review by their local school districts.
“We have done a magnificent job in educating our children,” Aaron Twerski, a Brooklyn Law School professor and Yeshiva parent, wrote to state officials. “They are deeply religious, highly disciplined, hard-working and industrious.”
He continued: “What you propose is an assault on the Orthodox and Chassidic. Your oversight is not needed and is not welcome.”
Other Jewish leaders were thankful for what they claimed was non-intrusive oversight for yeshivas that have been criticized for lacking in basic instruction.
“These regulations need to be seriously tightened in order for them to satisfy our concerns,” said Naftuli Moster, head of the nonprofit Young Advocates For Fair Education. “But they’re certainly a step in the right direction.”
Moster claimed that there was coercion at some yeshivas to submit public comment. The group also raised concerns about misinformation in the community.
“If they haven’t gotten your comment, you are automatically deemed suspicious,” said Moster. “Multiple parents have told me ‘my comment is in that big pile because I was afraid.’”
The proposed guidelines are another push from the education department to ensure that independent and parochial schools legally must provide an education that is at least “substantially equivalent” to what is offered in the public school sector.
Previous attempts at more oversight were met with resistance from a wide array of independent school groups, from elite Manhattan private schools to Catholic schools.
“Catholic schools are the very model for education in America, and we have the test scores and graduation rates to prove it,” said Superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York Michael Deegan. “While we welcome most any measurement of our rigorous academics, we remain concerned with the notion of local school districts being empowered in any way to be the arbiters of such scrutiny.”
The Archdiocese added they are confident in the state education department to “strike a balance” between the schools and state standards.
“As the Board of Regents surely understands, parents dig deep into their pockets to educate their children in private schools precisely because they want their children to have an educational experience that is substantially different from — not substantially equivalent to — the experience they would have in public school,” wrote Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of Council for American Private Education.
“It is important to recall that even without overly prescriptive governmental regulation, private schools are already accountable to those who hold ultimate authority over them: their parent bodies,” the letter continues. “If parents are dissatisfied with the education their child is receiving in a private school, they are perfectly free to vote with their feet and enroll their child in another school.”
The revisions create flexibility for some private schools that protested earlier drafts by exempting accredited schools, like those through the New York State Association of Independent Schools, from stricter oversight. One letter said that reflected a “misplaced concern for private schools’ preferences rather than students’ rights.”
“A regulation has to stay within the contours or the boundaries of the law, and these are unauthorized exceptions,” said David Bloomfield, a professor of education law and policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
Education officials will review hundreds of thousands of letters over the next few months, then bring the regulations back to a vote in the fall.
A spokesperson for the New York State Education Department said the agency has yet to count the letters, and did not know if it was the largest volume it had received on a proposed regulation.
“New York State law requires education substantially equivalent to that provided in public schools be provided to all students in non-public schools,” said JP O’Hare, an agency spokesperson. “Therefore the Department has an obligation under the law to ensure all students receive an education that enables them to fulfill their potential and helps them develop the skills and knowledge needed to support themselves and their families, contribute to society and participate in civic life.”