Lawler Amendment Aims to Shield Private Schools From Regulation

By Reuvain Borchardt

Rep. Mike Lawler in the U.S. Capitol Thursday, heading to the House chamber to speak in support of his amendment to the Parents Bill of Rights Act. (Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia)

WASHINGTON — An amendment to a federal education law passed Friday by the House states that Congress believes private schools are not subject to local educational agencies’ control over its curriculum.

The clause reads, “It is the sense of Congress that local educational agencies do not have the authority to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum or program of instruction of non-public elementary or secondary schools.” It was inserted into the bill by Rep. Mike Lawler (R–N.Y.), who represents a heavily Orthodox Jewish district in Rockland County, as yeshivas in New York are embroiled in a battle with that state’s Education Department over recently passed curriculum regulations. The clause does not actually impose any restriction on a local educational agency, as it is merely a “Sense of Congress” clause.

The larger bill, known as the Parents Bill of Rights Act, seeks to give parents greater control over their children’s education by requiring school districts to keep parents informed of matters like the school curriculum, which speakers address the students, and which books are kept in the library. It is part of a growing backlash in conservative states to what Republicans view as the dissemination of progressive moral values in public schools.

Text of the Lawler Amendment.

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin rode to victory in a light-blue state in 2021 largely over this issue, campaigning against progressive morality and for parental rights in schools as his Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has become a national figure in large part by speaking out over this issue and passing a “Parental Rights in Education Act.”

Another clause in the Lawler Amendment clarifies that the requirements in the bill apply only to public schools, stating, “Nothing in this Act may be construed to impose any requirements on non-public elementary or secondary schools.”

Speaking on the House floor Thursday in support of his amendment supporting the curricular-independence of private schools, Lawler said, “In New York, for instance, this is of great concern, as the current governor and her administration have attempted to impose severe restrictions on private schools, including Catholic schools and yeshivas, in school districts across the state.”

The Education Department in New York operates independently, but Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul has upset many in the Orthodox Jewish community — which voted heavily for Republican challenger Lee Zeldin last November — as she has not publicly intervened with the Education Department or taken a stance in favor of private schools on this issue.

The New York regulations passed last September would for the first time allow the Education Department direct oversight over the curriculum of private schools.

The regulations were passed after some former yeshiva graduates who have since left the community alleged they had not received an adequate secular education. Yeshiva advocates argue that yeshivas in fact offer a robust education, particularly when including the critical-thinking and analytical skills learned in Judaic studies, and when considering student outcomes and successes rather than specific hourly inputs of secular education. They also oppose regulations of their curriculum as an unlawful intrusion on religious and parental rights.

Lawler speaking on the House floor Thursday in support of his amendment.

Yeshiva groups have sued to overturn the regulations. On Thursday afternoon, a state judge left the curicular mandates of the regulations undisturbed, but found that the State  Education Department does not have the authority to penalize a school that is determined to be not equivalent or to direct parents to choose a different school for their children.  Albany Supreme Court Justice Christina Ryba ruled that state education requirements are directed at parents, not nonpublic schools, and so parents have the right to send their children to the school of their choice and, if necessary, supplement the instruction they receive there.

Yeshiva advocates are celebrating the ruling, for while it keeps the regulations themselves in place, it essentially removes the state’s enforcement mechanism, forcing the state to individually go after each student rather than schools.

Speaking Thursday, Lawler continued, “A key provision of this new state regulation was actually thrown out in court today. Parents choose to send their children to the school they feel best fits their needs and beliefs. It is not the role of any government to dictate to parents and children what they should believe or practice, and in my district it certainly is a concern held by many parents. I have parents contact my office every day with concerns about their children’s education and the state trying to force itself into the relationship between educators and students.”

Speaking with a Hamodia reporter at the Capitol on Thursday shortly before he headed to the House floor to make his speech, Lawler said that “the intent behind the amendment [is] to ensure that parents who choose to send their children to a nonpublic or religious school are able to do so without the interference of the government.”

While his Sense of Congress clause does not have any force, and is merely Congress stating its belief, Lawler said he felt is was important “to make the point and reaffirm the point. Obviously education is really the purview of state and local governments. And we believe in local control of schools and the decision of parents, and that’s fundamentally what the bill is about: parents’ rights. But I think it’s important to ensure as part of that, that we respect and recognize the right of parents to choose another form of education, vis-à-vis a non public school or a religious school, to provide a quality education for their child.”

The federal Parents Bill of Rights Act narrowly passed the House Friday, opposed by all Democrats and five Republicans — including Lawler himself. Despite his support for the larger bill, Lawler ultimately voted against its passage because of amendments passed by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) designed to push back against promoting progressive social agendas in schools. Lawler said in a statement he had “proudly” co-sponsored the bill, but felt these amendments “went too far” as it could be “putting vulnerable children at greater risk.” A Lawler spokesman also told Hamodia that Lawler feared the amendments could violate some children’s privacy.

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