Together the two of us have 70 years of experience in Jewish education. Yet nothing could have prepared us for what the New York State Education Department did last month. On Nov. 20, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia issued guidance empowering local school boards to evaluate private schools and to vote on our right to continue educating our students.
The state government now requires private schools to offer a specific set of classes more comprehensive than what students in public schools must learn. Our schools must offer 11 courses to students in grades 5 through 8, for a total of seven hours of daily instruction. Public schools have less than six hours a day of prescribed instruction. Private-school teachers will also be required to submit to evaluation by school districts.
At a press conference announcing the new guidelines, a reporter asked Ms. Elia what would happen if a yeshiva didn’t alter its Jewish-studies emphasis to conform to her mandate. She responded that parents “would be notified they need to transfer students” in as little as six weeks. And if they didn’t? “They’d be considered truant, and that’s another whole process that gets triggered.”
Government may have an interest in ensuring that every child receives a sound basic education, but it has no right to commandeer our schools’ curricula.