Photo Credit: courtesy, New York City Council, Jeff Reed
New York City Council member Chaim Deutsch (R), seated during Education meeting.

A group of 28 New York City Council members signed a letter this week sharing their “significant concerns” over the recently-issued New York State Education guidelines for private schools.

The letter states Council members have raised questions about “the lack of a process that allowed for meaningful stakeholder input prior to the imposition of the guidelines, and also about their unprecedented intrusion into private school practices.”

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Jewish Caucus Chairman Council member Chaim Deutsch compiled the letter, dated December 20, 2018, with support from other Council members, the Islamic School Association, the Catholic Community Relations Council, Agudath Israel of America, and the National Society of Hebrew Day Schools.

Following is the text of the letter and a list of the signatories.

Dear Commissioner Elia,

As representatives of diverse constituencies across New York City, we write to share deep concerns about the newly released State Education Department equivalency guidelines. These guidelines will impact more than 2,000 private schools across the State, and nearly 500,000 students. In particular, they could severely disrupt religious Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish private schools.

Every child in New York must be afforded the opportunity to receive an excellent education. 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.

Everyone can agree that all children are entitled to a sound basic education. These new guidelines go far beyond that, requiring seven separate courses for elementary students, and eleven compulsory courses for middle-schoolers. Additionally, there has been substantial confusion regarding the mandated hours of instruction for these newly required classes. (Ed. note: Italics added)

Fundamentally, we are concerned that the State Education Department is forcing its way deep into private school practices with this unprecedented incursion into private schools’ curricula. It is imperative that the State of New York, home to people of many different cultures, backgrounds, and religions, respects the rights of parents to choose the best school for their children. It is furthermore critical that the State refrains from threatening to remove student-based funding from schools that do not acquiesce to these guidelines.

We are also troubled by the process with which these guidelines have been put forward. There has been no opportunity for public input either from other policy makers, elected officials, or affected schools, educators, and parents.

We are particularly troubled by reports that community leaders have reached out to the State Education Department with concerns and have received no reply. On a matter of such vital importance, it is absolutely essential that there be clear communication and dialogue between the State Education Department and those affected by its guidelines.

The substantial equivalency requirement has been on the books since 1897. While there are surely individual schools – both public and private – that need to improve, there is no reason to radically alter the relationship between the State and the private school community that has worked well since the 19th century. Indeed, over the past 120 years private schools have had an admirable record, both academically and in preparing their students for life.

We look forward to an expeditious response from the Department, and a continued open dialogue with you on these important matters.

Sincerely,

Chaim Deutsch
Laurie Cumbo
Steven Matteo
Ben Kallos
Stephen Levin
Karen Koslowitz
Donovan Richards
Joseph Borelli
Rafael Espinal
Paul Vallone
Eric Ulrich
Peter Koo
Robert Cornegy
Fernando Cabrera
Robert Holden
Margaret Chin
Mark Levine
Mark Gjonaj
Ydanis Rodriguez
Andy King
Mathieu Eugene
Justin Brannan
Alicka Ampry-Samuel
Bill Perkins
Alan Maisel
Rory Lancman
Ruben Diaz, Sr.
Diana Ayala

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.