The New York State Board of Regents recently proposed an updated set of regulations concerning “substantial equivalency,” which seeks to ensure that curriculum in non-public schools is comparable (“substantially equivalent”) to that of public schools. According to Education Law §3204, children in non-public schools are guaranteed a substantially equivalent education under the New York State Constitution. The new guidelines have been proposed in response to a lawsuit against the Board of Regents, the New York State Education Department and Commissioner and four separate Yeshiva schools, in which plaintiffs stated that they hadn’t received a substantially equivalent education to which they are entitled under New York State law.
The Board of Regents published thirty-two pages of substantial equivalency regulations which includes what constitutes comparable curriculum, who will determine and suggest this curriculum and how it should be integrated into schools. The issue with substantial equivalency is that it is a huge government overreach, as it forces regulations on schools and could severely limit freedom of speech.
Under the proposal, non-public schools’ curriculum will come under the review and jurisdiction of local school authorities, who will evaluate and determine substantial equivalency. If the curriculum doesn’t meet the standards and the non-public school doesn’t make the directed changes, state-granted privileges like special education and transportation are taken away, parents are directed to enroll their children in a different school and students are considered truants if they continue to attend the school.
Non-public schools are also required to constantly communicate any changes in curriculum and leadership to the government. Additionally, the local school authorities can inspect non-public schools any time they suspect their curriculum is not up to par. These regulations, if passed, would give an incredible amount of power to New York State, as it would allow them to essentially control all curriculum throughout the state.
The proposal also goes against the United States and New York State Constitutions, both of which guarantee freedom of speech and freedom of religion. As of 2013, a majority of non-public schools in New York are religious schools (Jewish and Catholic, primarily), and religious instruction is integrated into their curriculum. The substantial equivalency proposal acknowledges this, stating that “traditions and beliefs–religious or otherwise–will drive the curriculum and will be integrated into the delivery of instruction.”
While New York might promise to respect the religious freedom of schools, it is impossible to say whether this will be the case if the proposals get approved. Given that different local school authorities will evaluate non-public school curriculums, it is likely that the interpretation, and therefore, implementation of the regulations will be unevenly applied. Additionally, the mere fact that religious schools will now be subject to local school authority review violates the separation of church and state.
The New York State Board of Regents’s substantial equivalency proposals, if implemented, would give the state an extraordinary amount of power and could seriously threaten personal freedoms. Private schools have the constitutional right to implement the curriculums of their choosing and there are still too many unknowns surrounding the application of the proposal. For decades, non-public schools have been trusted to educate children and there is no reason that should change now.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.