Open Letter to Private School Parents Regarding Substantial Equivalency Regulations
To: New York’s Nonpublic School Parents
Today I write to share with you an urgent message of equity in our children’s education. A substantially equivalent education has been guaranteed to every child in New York state by Section 3204 of Article 65 of the New York State Law Code for over 100 years. This means that students in nonpublic schools must be supplied with at least the same education that is guaranteed to public school students. Basics in math, history, and English must be taught.
The Board of Regents is now considering regulations to support this statutory requirement. These regulations are basic. They require a periodic assessment to ensure that all schools teach essential subjects such as math, English, science and social studies and that teachers are competent at the most basic level to teach. This is NOT about the details of the curriculum or allowing the Department of Education to dictate lesson plans. And contrary to what you may have heard, this is NOT about a loss of privacy for our children.
Most nonpublic schools, like the one my children attend, easily meet and exceed these requirements, but we know because of a recent investigation conducted by the DOE that many ultra-Orthodox Hasidic yeshivas do not. Consequently, tens of thousands of students in these institutions finish school without having gained the basic components of a secular education.
These students are often ill-prepared for the future and unable to be independent. They are left with few opportunities to provide for themselves and their families. Enforcing the longstanding substantial equivalency law will ensure that these students receive the education they are entitled to and have a chance to join the workforce or pursue higher education.
Furthermore, they will improve educational equity for all children regardless of their circumstances. This is a fair and just way to protect children and to prevent educational neglect.
Unfortunately, the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS), through its executive director, Mark Lauria, has decided to stand against these important and just measures. NYSAIS has been encouraging the private schools that it accredits to tell parents that these common-sense reforms are dangerous and detrimental to nonpublic schools.
As the parent of a child who attends a nonpublic school, I understand how deeply private school parents value quality education. Educational opportunity and success are top priorities for our families. However, we must make sure that our desire for our own children’s success never comes at the expense of other New York students.
Substantial equivalency is not an attack on our nonpublic schools. Mark Lauria’s claims that these regulations threaten the independence of nonpublic schools and give the state unprecedented authority are simply untrue.
The collective good of our schools, communities, and children is on the line. Nonpublic school parents have a choice to make. What side of history do we want to be on: one that stood up for the rights of ALL New York students, or the one that stood in the way of progress?
Luckily, there is still time for the private school community to take a stand for what is right.
We must encourage the leaders at our children’s schools to take a social justice approach to education reforms, including these proposed regulations. It is our responsibility as parents to vocally support substantial equivalency and to ensure that our schools do not use their power to advocate for policies that cause harm to the greater community.
As we speak, there are efforts underway to derail these important regulations. Together, let’s call on our school leaders to stand in support of this reform and for improving education for all students. I also encourage you to join Private School Parents for Substantial Equivalency (PSPSE) to get more involved with this issue.
Tens of thousands of students’ education hangs in the balance. We all have a part to play in creating an education system that benefits all children — not just our own.
Barbra Rothschild, MD
Co-founder of Private School Parents for Substantial Equivalency (PSPSE)