New York – The quality of secular studies offered by New York’s yeshivas and day schools has come under relentless and unfair attack during the last few years – and now new guidelines for private schools issued by the State Education Department are creating unprecedented confusion and concern on the part of educators, parents, and community leaders.
In late November, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia took the unprecedented step of issuing new, onerous guidelines that require a significant number of secular courses to be taught, give the school district control over teacher’s accreditation, and mandate inspections from public school officials. If not abided by, the guidelines threaten the loss of student-based funding, school transportation, and even eventual closure.
While we can all agree that every child deserves a sound basic education, these new guidelines step far beyond that. They are intrusive, and subvert a private school’s right to control their own curriculum and the culture in their schools.
In the Jewish community, parents take on the often hefty burden of paying yeshiva tuition because we want to ensure that we have some semblance of control over the environment in which our children are spending most of their days. We do our due diligence in ensuring that our children are receiving a good education that will prepare them for a successful future. Most importantly, it is our absolute right as parents to choose where we send our children for school.
These new guidelines are not just affecting yeshivas and Jewish day schools. Muslim and Catholic leaders have also joined in condemning them, with the New York State Catholic Conference going so far as to direct all of the state’s Catholic schools to not participate in “any review carried out by local public school officials.”
The New York Court of Appeals determined in 1948 that “private schools have a constitutional right to exist, and parents have a constitutional right to send their children to such schools.” Depriving such schools of the right to shape their curricula in line with their religious and cultural values would essentially remove the “private” in “private schools”.
It is the tradition of the Jewish people, since the days when Yaakov Avinu sent his son Yehuda ahead to Egypt to establish a yeshiva, that we educate our children according to our teachings as a method of securing our nation’s endurance. Maintaining the independence of our schools is absolutely critical, and allowing the State to overstep their bounds and infringe upon our religious institutions sets a dangerous precedent.
Today, they want to control what we teach in our yeshivas. If we don’t fight back, what will tomorrow bring?