State Department of Education Unveils New Guidelines, Oversight for Private Schools

State Department of Education officials unveiled new educational standards for private schools at the March meeting of the Board of Regents on Monday, narrowing the scope of what public school districts should oversee.

The proposed regulations provide several avenues for nonpublic schools to demonstrate that they offer “substantially equivalent” educational programs to those of public schools, as required by New York law.

The compliance process would apply to fewer institutions than it did under the first version of the rules, which in 2019 were struck down by a Supreme Court judge who said they needed public comment. The public comment period for a previous version generated more than 85,000 emails, many of them opposition.

Under the new rules, most accredited parochial and independent schools are exempt from demonstrating that they meet the state’s academic requirements.

The department introduced the regulations in 2019 in response to criticism that some yeshivas in island Jewish communities were not providing basic secular education and that the state was doing little to enforce existing standards.

“Our state is rich in diversity, from our cultural, racial and religious backgrounds to the languages ​​we speak,” Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr. said in a statement. “These differences are assets that must be exploited so that we can learn from each other. The Council and I are committed to ensuring that students who attend school in a setting consistent with their religious and cultural beliefs and values ​​receive the education to which they are legally entitled.

After holding numerous in-person and online forums with stakeholders from public and private schools, education officials said they incorporated elements of feedback into the new framework, taking into account various pedagogical models, putting the focus on core subjects like math and English, setting clear expectations for school districts and establishing a complaints process.

Many heads of private institutions have asked the state not to create additional paperwork or force them to duplicate existing credentialing processes.

Any school that is accredited or administers state testing is exempt from demonstrating compliance, as are state-approved private schools serving students with disabilities, under the proposed rules.

Other non-public schools will be subject to review by the local school district.

A two-year review process will begin in September 2023 with public school districts identifying all independent schools within their boundaries.

School districts will be asked to respect cultural differences. BOCES could play a supporting role, state officials said.

“We have an obligation under the law to ensure that all students receive an education that enables them to fulfill their potential and teaches them the skills and knowledge necessary to contribute to society and participate in civic life” , Commissioner Betty Rosa said in a statement. “Through our strong stakeholder engagement over the past two years, we have listened to all parties, and their feedback is reflected in our proposed new regulations.”

Some education experts who have pushed for greater oversight of private education worry that the updated regulations are too easy to circumvent.

“The regulations void the law by not requiring education in the specific areas required by state law,” said David C. Bloomfield, professor of education at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center. “These pathways are loopholes that any suspicious school can jump through exempting them from investigation.”

Public comments on the proposed guidelines will be accepted from March 30 to May 31, 2022.

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