As the 60 day comment period – which has allowed the public to weigh in on proposed New York State Education Department regulations that would affect every nonpublic school statewide – draws to a close next week, on September 2, questions remain about how determinations regarding the quality of private school education are made.
The latest iteration of regulations was introduced at the end of May and – much like the regulations proposed in November 2018 that were ultimately invalidated in New York State Supreme Court in April – they seek to dictate secular curricula, regulate hours of study, and give local public schools districts the ability to oversee private schools that lie within their boundaries by determining if students are receiving a substantially equivalent education. The state’s Board of Regents will review the proposed regulations as well as public comments, with a final decision expected sometime this fall.
Requests submitted by The Jewish Press under the Freedom Of Information Law for clarifications of the proposed regulations produced conflicting answers. An initial request submitted on May 16 for any and all records of studies and/or reports comparing public and nonpublic school academic results and social welfare markers, including teen pregnancy rates, alcohol and drug consumption, was denied in entirely by NYSED’s Records Access Office. A July 30 response indicated that no records are kept regarding social welfare in schools, conveniently sidestepping the request for academic records.
A response received on August 26 to a February 14 FOIL request asking for the past five years’ records in several areas also raised eyebrows. While NYSED has twice so far attempted to implement new educational guidelines, its records office stated that it has no information on procedures to develop or amend educational guidelines. While state law allows nonpublic schools to offer a curriculum that is substantially equivalent to that being offered in public schools, and state education law discusses substantial equivalency reviews at length, the NYSED records office responded to a request for records defining the term equivalent “in the context of teaching something other than [the] prescribed are of study” by replying “NYSED does not possess these records.”
Additionally, in the most recent communication from the records office, it stated that that records of Regents scores between public and private schools were attached; no public school scores were actually provided, precluding the possibility of any independent assessments of the data.
Several critics of the guidelines told The Jewish Press that it hard to understand how NYSED could have invested countless hours creating new guidelines but they can’t produce records regarding their development or any possible changes that may have been made to the existing regulations. And it is equally difficult to comprehend, they say, how nonpublic schools were found to be lacking in their educational standards if NYSED has only raw scores and no actual studies or reports comparing public and private schools.
Massive campaigns launched by Agudath Israel of America, Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS) and private schools have generated tens of thousands of letters protesting the proposed guidelines, which have been described by many as faulty on multiple levels.
“Given how flawed the proposals that have emerged from NYSED are, it is no surprise that process that created them was fatally flawed,” said PEARLS attorney Avi Schick.
A spokesperson for NYSED was not immediately available to comment on the matter.