Betty A. Rosa, the state's education commissioner, said compliance with requirements...

Betty A. Rosa, the state's education commissioner, said compliance with requirements for educating all the state's children was "a commitment that we must live up to."  Credit: Hans Pennink

Private schools, including Jewish yeshivas, face stricter enforcement of long-standing requirements that they provide academic instruction “substantially equivalent” to that in the public sector, following the preliminary adoption of revised statewide rules Monday. 

The unanimous vote by a committee of the state Board of Regents virtually ensures final adoption, because the committee includes a majority of the 17-member Regents’ board. A final vote by the board, which sets much of the state's education policy, is scheduled for Tuesday morning.

Under the revised state regulations, which would take effect Sept. 28, nonpublic schools would have expanded options for showing that they meet academic standards. For example, they could obtain recognition from accrediting agencies, or demonstrate to public-school officials in their community that they offer adequate instruction in English, social studies, math and science.

Nonpublic schools also must employ teachers competent in those core academic courses and instruction must be in English. Noncompliance could result in losses of state and federal funding, and even in shutdowns of schools themselves.

The vast majority of private schools, including Jewish academies, already comply with state regulations. However, a number of yeshivas in Brooklyn and Rockland County recently have objected to what they characterize as government interference in education that is primarily religious.

The dispute has spread to Long Island and other parts of the state, as regional educational and religious leaders have taken sides.

More than 30 yeshivas are directly involved in the protest, and all are managed by the Hasidic branch of Judaism, which is noted for its religious conservatism and social seclusion. 

The revised rules reflect state efforts to clarify what private schools must do to comply with state regulations — rules likely to face a legal challenge. Betty A. Rosa, the state education commissioner, declared at the beginning of Monday's meeting that compliance with requirements for educating all the state's children was "a commitment that we must live up to." 

The revised rules, when first proposed, generated about 350,000 public comments, and most of those responses included objections to state intervention. One Brooklyn-based Hasidic group, Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, or PEARLS, declared Friday that yeshivas “are proud of the successful results, and will continue to do the same, with or without the blessing or support of state leaders.”

The dispute began in 2015, when some former yeshiva students and parents filed lawsuits against four schools in Rockland County, contending that those schools failed to teach boys skills such as calculation needed to succeed in adult life. The bulk of instruction provided in those schools was delivered in Yiddish, not English. 

The requirement for "equivalency" in nonpublic schools is spelled out in the state's compulsory-education law, which was adopted in 1895. At that time, the requirement that secular education be approximately the same in both public and private sectors was aimed mostly at Catholic schools.

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