Jewish Groups Cautiously Hail New NYC Pre-K Rules

NEW YORK -

Several Orthodox Jewish groups on Wednesday praised the new scheduling rules allowing yeshivos greater leeway in opening prekindergarten programs, but said they hoped New York City officials would still reopen a robust half-day program that had been in effect until last year.

The rules, reported exclusively by Hamodia on Wednesday, allow flexibility in making up the mandatory six hours and 20 minutes of daily instruction on other days in the same week, allow classes on federal holidays to fill the 180-day requirement, and permits a short break during the day for religious instruction.

Agudath Israel of America, which negotiated the rules change during months of talks with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, said they were “gratified” by the new rules, but called for the half-day program to be revived.

“While only time will tell the extent to which these changes will result in a higher level of Jewish community participation in the [pre-K] program,” Agudah said in a statement, “it is anticipated that additional schools will now seek to [join]. … This is a meaningful step forward.”

Richard Buery, the deputy mayor who is charged with implementing pre-K, wrote in a letter last year to Agudah that “there will be a half-day RFP (Request for Proposals)to accommodate those families and providers for whom half-day is the best option.”

However, in a letter sent to yeshivah administrators on Wednesday, Buery wrote that “we anticipate continuing a modest half-day program.”

Citing the words “anticipate” and modest,” Agudah said they had been hoping for stronger language and called it “critical that the city maintain a half-day option.”

Elected officials also weighed in, with Assemblyman Dov Hikind praising de Blasio while Councilman David Greenfield, in a tweet from Israel, said the changes were insufficient.

“Every problem has a solution if you sincerely want to find it,” Hikind said. “Our mayor has shown once again that our community’s concerns are very important to him.”

Greenfield posted on Twitter that the changes “will help *some* yeshivas but not most.”

Calling the changes “cosmetic,” the Orthodox Union said the new rules are still closing off the mayor’s pre-K promise to Jewish schools. Maury Litwack, OU’s director of state political affairs, said that, “practically, these changes would force 4-year-olds into an almost unending school attendance that would include Sundays and federal holidays.”