The state Education Department is proposing new regulations of private schools after years of allegations that some New York City yeshivas failed to teach students in English or cover basic math and science.
The proposed regulations will revise the framework for private schools to demonstrate that they offer an education the state deems “substantially equivalent” to one offered in public schools.
Some 1,800 nonpublic schools in New York state will be affected by the new guidelines, if they are approved by the state Board of Regents at a Tuesday hearing.
The proposal follows allegations first raised in 2015 that more than two-dozen city yeshivas did not meet the state's threshold. The city's Department of Education found in 2019 that only two out of 28 yeshivas were providing students with an education “substantially equivalent” to one in public schools.
The mother of a Brooklyn yeshiva student filed a lawsuit last year alleging her 8-year-old son had received minimal instruction in English. Her older sons, who had attended the same school, “were not taught any classes in American history, American government, civics, or voting,” according to the ongoing suit.
Daniel Morton Bentley, a deputy commissioner for the state Education Department, confirmed Friday that the updated regulations came in response to “a number of allegations around 2015 alleging that the quality of instruction in nonpublic schools in New York City was not substantially equivalent” to a public school education.
State officials spent the past two years reviewing 350,000 public comments on a draft of the plan.
The vast majority of these comments “expressed philosophical opposition to state regulation of nonpublic schools,” Morton Bentley said. But “this is a statutory obligation that (the state) cannot ignore.”
Religious schools have had little oversight for years, said Naftuli Moster, the executive director of the Young Advocates For A Fair Education, which has pushed for stronger oversight of yeshivas.
“Overall, these regulations are certainly a step in the right direction,” Moster said. He hoped the state will tighten any potential “loopholes” for schools to self-certify or avoid teaching all required subjects.
“We’re concerned that some of the same failing yeshivas will continue to take advantage of that, and maintain the status quo of denying tens of thousands of children an education,” Moster said.
The new framework is likely to face further pushback ahead of next week’s hearing.
“These regulations will dictate the curriculum that yeshivas must teach,” reads the website of Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools. The advocacy group opposes the “plan to control our yeshivas and dictate how they should be run.”
The new regulations offer private schools many opportunities to show compliance, state education officials said.
But a private school that ultimately did not meet the guidelines would "no longer (be) considered a school by the state of New York for the purposes of compliance with the compulsory education law,” Deputy Commissioner Dr. James Baldwin said.
Baldwin declined to clarify if the state would force the school to shut down.
The city's Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
This story has been updated to correct the name of Young Advocates For A Fair Education.