New York State has opened the door to a war on religious education. New guidelines from the state’s Department of Education are framed as applying to all “religious and independent schools” in New York, but no one is fooled. The changes are aimed right at New York City’s freewheeling Orthodox Jewish seminaries, known as yeshivas. More than 100,000 students attend yeshivas in New York City.
The new guidelines revisit the “substantial equivalency” statute that has kept the peace in New York schools since 1897. Non-public schools can educate their students as they see fit, provided the education is “substantially equivalent” to public schools. The new guidelines change the equation. Math must be taught every day. English, science, and social studies must be taught. Schools must provide samples of teaching schedules, textbooks, and lesson plans. Non-compliant schools risk withdrawal of funding for things like textbooks and transportation, and students ultimately could be forced to go to another school. Students that resist transfer risk being declared “truant” and legal steps to challenge parental competency could follow. The new mandates will be enforced by inspections from local school district officials.
The guidelines, wrote two Orthodox educators in the Wall Street Journal, are a shocking power grab by secular forces. They “empower local school boards to evaluate private schools and to vote on our right to continue educating our students.” The new curriculum requirements demand “so much time that it crowds out Torah study, our sacred mission.”