Richard Altabe, principal of the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach,...

Richard Altabe, principal of the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, at a state Board of Regents meeting in February 2020. He said Friday that he appreciated some recent revisions in the state's plan that he and his colleagues had advocated. But he added that he questioned the state's authority to define the sort of teachers who could be employed by nonpublic schools.  Credit: Hans Pennink

Private schools, including Jewish yeshivas, will be offered options for demonstrating that they provide academic instruction "substantially equivalent" to that in the public sector, under a revised regulatory plan announced Friday by state education officials. 

Under the plan, nonpublic schools on Long Island and across the state could choose to obtain accreditation from a recognized agency, or to administer state tests to show that their students are making academic progress. As an alternative, such schools could opt to have their instruction in English, social studies, math and science evaluated by the local school district in which they are located. 

Other state provisions require academic subjects to be taught in English, and by "competent" teachers. 

Adoption of the proposed new rules is to be considered next week at a regular monthly meeting of the state's Board of Regents. In recent years, a number of Jewish yeshivas have objected to government regulation on religious grounds, and state authorities have been trying to clarify what constitutes compliance with existing education law.

Private schools, like public ones, have been regulated under New York State's compulsory-education law for more than a century. 

State education officials at a news conference Friday said they had received more than 350,000 public comments on the proposed rules revisions, and that many had voiced reservations. However, Daniel Morton-Bentley, a deputy education commissioner and counsel, observed that education law "cannot be ignored." 

Jim Baldwin, a senior deputy education commissioner, said at the news conference that the state's intent was to handle regulatory issues with nonpublic schools in a collaborative way, and "we respect the world view of those schools." 

One major Orthodox group, Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, or PEARLS, based in Brooklyn, denounced the state's plan. 

 "Parents in New York have been choosing a yeshiva education for more than 120 years, and they are proud of the successful results, and will continue to do the same, with or without the blessing or support of state leaders in Albany," said Richard Bamberger, a group spokesman. 

Experts in recent weeks have said they expect opponents of state regulation to take their case to court.

The current dispute over private-school regulation began in 2015, when former students and parents sued four yeshivas in Rockland County, north of New York City, on grounds they did not provide adequate secular education. The fight later spread to Brooklyn, and then to Long Island and other parts of the state, as educators and religious leaders took sides. 

A class-action lawsuit filed at the time contended that the yeshivas in question failed to teach boys English, calculating and other skills needed to succeed in adult life. Ultra-Orthodox schools focus on Judaic studies for boys, particularly in Talmud or Jewish law.

One leader of the protest movement, Naftuli Moster, voiced support for the state's plan, describing it as "a major first step to bringing oversight, enforcement and accountability to many schools that have failed to comply with the law for years."

Moster is executive director of Yaffed, a group pressing for more secular education in Orthodox schools. 

Supporters of Judaic education on Long Island have noted that many of their high schools offer college-level Advanced Placement courses and other enriched secular subjects.

Richard Altabe, principal of the 1,000-student Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, said during a phone interview Friday that he appreciated some recent revisions in the state's plan that he and his colleagues had advocated. Altabe added, however, that he questioned the state's authority to define the sort of teachers who could be employed by nonpublic schools. 

"I'm the principal," Altabe said. "I want to make the decision as to who is a competent teacher." 

Those pressing for more secular education in Orthodox schools point to New York State's compulsory education law, adopted in 1895, which requires instruction in nonpublic schools to be roughly equivalent to that in the public sector.

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