Substantial Equivalency Regulations Pass Regents Committee; Final Vote Expected Tuesday

By Reuvain Borchardt

NEW YORK — A State Board of Regents committee unanimously voted Monday for proposed new regulations on secular-studies in private schools, clearing the way for a final vote by the full Board on Tuesday morning.

The committee vote Monday was held immediately after Education Department officials presented the regulations to the Board of Regents, the Department’s governing body. During the question session, none of the Regents expressed opposition to the proposed regulations, indicating the regulations will also pass easily when they are voted on by the full Board.

The regulations would require all private schools to demonstrate they are providing a secular education “at least substantially equivalent” to that offered in public schools, by either offering Regents exams, being accredited by an approved accrediting body, or having its  curriculum assessed by the local school authority.

Children attending schools not meeting these standards would be considered truant, and their parents may be fined or jailed.

While the “substantially equivalent” law has been on the books since the late 19th Century, this would be the first time the state would enshrine into law a precise definition of how schools meet this standard. The state began a process of seeking to define “substantially equivalent” in 2015, after some former yeshiva students formed a group called YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education) alleging they had received a subpar secular education.

The battle over substantial equivalency has pitted those who allege some yeshivas offer a poor secular education that inadequately prepares students to earn a livelihood and be a part of contemporary society, against those who say that parents should have autonomy in deciding their children’s education in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs, that the totality of a yeshiva education is superior to that offered in public schools, and that yeshiva graduates live more productive lives than do public-school graduates.

During a public-comment period following release of the proposed regulations in March, 350,000 comments were submitted to the Education Department, the vast majority from yeshiva graduates opposing the regulations.

But the final regulations, released Friday, were nearly identical to the draft released in March.

YAFFED celebrated following Monday’s vote, while yeshiva supporters expressed disappointment that the submitted and comments and their meetings with education officials appear to have been for naught.

“Motion passes in committee!” YAFFED tweeted Monday. “And it is all but guaranteed to pass in the full board tomorrow! Congrats everyone!”

Rav Yisroel Reisman, Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Voddath, told Hamodia, “It’s an understatement to say that we are disappointed. Our needs have been ignored, our leaders have been ignored, and over 300,000 letters have been ignored. Our schools are free of drugs, guns and violence, and therefore our community has far lower rates of drugs, guns and violence than any other community. Why is this not even mentioned in the current discussions over the merits of yeshiva education?”

Rabbi Moshe Dovid Niederman, an executive board member of yeshiva organization PEARLS (Parents for Education and Religious Liberty in Schools), told Hamodia, “We are extremely disappointed that after spending so much time with education officials, presenting evidence of the success of our educational system, and submitting hundreds of thousands of comments, the officials seem to have ignored  the community that invests so much in its private education, as evidenced by its successful graduates.

“I hope that tomorrow the Regents will finally stand up for a community that came to this country because of its promise of religious liberty, and has been such a positive contributor to society in our great melting pot here in New York.”

The Board vote is expected to be held between 9:50 am. and 11:00 a.m. Tuesday.

The full regulations, and a summary of the comments opposing and supporting the regulations, and the Education Department’s response to these comments, are available by clicking here

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