The New York State Association for Independent Schools (NYSAIS) is a voluntary association for independent schools founded on October 8th, 1947. NYSAIS provides member schools with legal counseling, information on legislation that might affect the school’s operation, evaluation and accreditation of member schools, and advocacy for progressive education. The New York State Education Department (NYSED) is the branch of public service offices responsible for the supervision of public schools in New York City.
In November of 2018, NYSED attempted to introduce a guideline to the state known as “substantial equivalency of instruction.” This new rule would allow NYSED officials to regularly inspect any nonpublic school and make sure the school is up to par. This is a redundancy on the part of NYSED, since NYSAIS already offers evaluation. This redundant inspection from NYSED would also leave independent schools susceptible to bias. If this rule is to be passed any time soon, someone from NYSED could slither right into City and Country and decide that they don’t really like blocks. Or more seriously, they could decide that any branch of our curriculum is not providing substantial general studies, and force us to remodel the whole class. This could mean drastically changing or even losing art, rhythms, science, or social studies; the building blocks of our school.
With all of this foreboding information, one might ask why is this rule even up for consideration? The rule was thought up after NYSED noticed that some Orthodox and Hasidic schools were not providing their students with legally required teachings. The idea is all the students of New York are owed a basic education, covering essential math, reading, and writing skills, and those Jewish schools are failing to provide that.
While that sounds like a good cause, making sure children have the necessary knowledge to navigate life, the rule puts all the nonpublic schools of New York under one umbrella.
Fortunately, the Albany Supreme Court put a stop to this, at least for a short time. Justice Christina Ryba sided with NYSAIS on the subject, ruling that NYSED waved critical legal steps in trying to implement this rule. “This stops in its tracks SED’s effort to radically transform the relationship between the state and its private schools,” said Avi Schick, the attorney of a group of private schools who filed a motion opposing the NYSED rule. This motion was what brought attention to this situation in the first place.
The Independent schools of New York have nothing to fear for the time being, but a question still remains; what gives NYSED the right to police schools that are not apart of it’s system? The rather hasty attempt at implementation of these guidelines were based on the previously mentioned idea that all students are owed an education. This idea is supported by federal law, meaning NYSED could potentially overrule any choice in the matter that the private school has. “Potentially overrule any choice in the matter,” is quite a chilling statement, so let’s hope that NYSED will amend the guidelines for the better.