Report: Catholic School System Will Boycott New Private School Guidelines

ALBANY -

The Catholic school system took the first shot across the bow at the new guidelines issued by the New York state education department, announcing Wednesday that it will boycott the review and bar inspectors from its approximately 500 schools.

James Cultrara, executive secretary of the state Council of Catholic School Superintendents, said in a letter to Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia dated Dec. 5 — about two weeks after the guidelines governing private education were released — that he takes issue with a private school being inspected by a competing system.

“The parents who choose our schools can have great confidence in the academic rigor of our schools,” Cultrara said. “We simply cannot accept a competing school having authority over whether our schools can operate.”

State Education Department officials told the Albany Times-Union that they are reviewing the letter.

The guidelines, which also affect every yeshivah in the state, lay out a near mathematically-impossible schedule for private schools to achieve. It demands that the school devote as much as seven hours a day solely to secular studies.

The guidelines also call for a review by the hundreds of cities and school boards across the state to investigate its private schools to see whether they are “substantially equivalent” to a public school education. The review must be completed within three years.

It was those inspectors that Cultrara said his schools would boycott.

“Although we believe the Commissioner and Board of Regents have the discretionary authority and means to take on this responsibility,” he wrote in his letter to Elia, “our Council will be working with legislators to seek an amendment to the law so as to vest this responsibility solely with the State Education Department.”

A yeshivah advocacy group, Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, known as PEARLS, said in a statement to Hamodia that the decision by the Catholics proves that the guidelines are impractical.

“The decision by all 500 Catholic schools in New York state to reject the guidelines and refuse to cooperate with them,” the group said, “sends a very strong message to Albany that the guidelines do not work. SED should rip them up and start over again.”

SED refers to the state education department.

The Catholics also criticized the review process, in which the local school board inspects the school and then must vote on a recommendation at a public hearing. Although the final say on a school’s status rests with the state education chancellor, Cultrara said, “A review by local public school officials and a vote at a public meeting … practically guarantees inconsistency and subjectivity.”

The guidelines have elicited a strong reaction within the Orthodox Jewish community, with many seeing it as an attack on the yeshivah system itself.

Aron Wieder, a Rockland County legislator and an outspoken defender of yeshivos, tweeted his support Wednesday for the Catholics’ action.

“I applaud the State Council of Catholic School Superintendents for their unwavering stand to not allow the @NYSEDNews access to their schools and the fact that they will not submit to the draconian guidelines issued by @MaryEllenElia,” Wieder posted.

That message was amplified these past two weeks in public addresses by Gedolim, including Harav Aharon Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe; Harav Elya Brudny, Rosh Yeshivah of Mir; and Harav Yisroel Reisman, Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Vodaath.

“Who would believe,” said Rav Brudny in a video released by Agudath Israel of America, “that [this would happen] in a malchus shel chessed such as the United States, in the state of New York, in the city of New York, which has been a safe haven for us for so many decades… But right now, there’s a directive by the department of education of the state of New York … with a goal of maximizing secular studies — obviously at the expense of limmudei kodesh. This is unheard of.”

Rav Reisman noted in a video released by Agudah that the guidelines do not only affect the 30 chassidic yeshivos named in a lawsuit several years ago as not providing a proper secular education but every single one of the hundreds of yeshivos in the state.

“We must get together, strengthen each other — all of Klal Yisrael, from the most rightwing chassidic to the most modern of the Orthodox,” Rav Reisman said. “All those who have an interest in Torah education have to come together under one banner and speak out. Together we have strength politically, but more importantly to achieve rachamei Shamayim.


Updated Wednesday, December 12, 2018 at 6:35 pm add. info