New York state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, under whose tenure the Education Department has sought to enact strict oversight of private-school curricula, suddenly announced her resignation Monday.
Anna Gronewald, Politico NY’s Education reporter, broke news of the resignation, which is effective at the end of August, and caught the Board of Regents by surprise.
Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said, “Obviously this is an issue that has caught us all off guard.”
In her resignation letter to the Board, Elia said she is “proud of our department’s work to reform school accountability and improvement programs; offer improved professional development for our dedicated team of educators; and build an inclusive and responsive education system that is reflective of our diverse and vibrant student population.”
At a press conference Monday, Gronewold reported, Elia said she will be working with a national organization focusing on turning around struggling districts. She did not name the firm, but said, “They are absolutely not lobbyists. I’m not into that and you should know that.”
Elia said there is “nothing negative” about her departure.
On Tuesday, Executive Deputy Commissioner Beth Berlin was named as acting commissioner, starting September 1.
Elia, who has served as Education Commissioner since 2015, has had a stormy relationship with the yeshivah community.
In November 2018, following complaints by a group of disgruntled former yeshivah students over what they said was inadequate secular education, the Department issued detailed instructions for how private schools must fulfill the longstanding legal requirement that they provide an education “substantially equivalent” to that provided in public schools. The requirements mandate specific courses and the minimum number of hours to be dedicated to the study of each. The time requirements would obligate yeshivos, with a four-day week, to teach an average of more than four hours per day of secular studies in seventh and eighth grades, and an average of more than three hours per day in high school.
Though a judge threw out the guidelines in April on procedural grounds, the department earlier this month reissued the guidelines under proper procedures. The public has 60 days, ending Sept. 2, to comment on the guidelines, before a final vote by the Board of Regents, expected sometime in the fall.
It is unclear what effect, if any, Elia’s resignation will have on the proposed guidelines.
In 2015, amid ongoing financial hardships in the East Ramapo school district, Elia appointed a three-member panel to monitor the school board.
Updated Tuesday, July 16, 2019 at 6:31 pm .