NYCF Submits Substantial Equivalency Comment

Last week, Albany Update reported that the New York State Education Department (NYSED) was accepting public comments on a proposed rule relating to instruction in nonpublic schools. Specifically, the proposed rule would create an intrusive, unfair, and unnecessary mechanism allowing public school districts to evaluate the instruction provided at nonpublic schools (including Christian schools) and ascertain whether the education provided by such schools is substantially equivalent to the education provided in nearby public schools. Practically speaking, the proposed rule would allow public school districts to make recommendations about whether nonpublic schools in their region should continue to exist.

On September 1, 2019, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms (NYCF) submitted our public comments to NYSED regarding the proposed substantial equivalency rule. Our comments focused on three issues. The first was unfairness. The rule would allow school districts to evaluate private schools, some of whom may be perceived as competitors of the school district. There is a conflict of interest here. The second issue was deficient procedural safeguards. If a school district finds that a nonpublic school has not met the substantial equivalency requirement, the Rule provides that the district “should notify nonpublic school administration of the date that the board of education will consider” the school’s compliance (emphasis added). It adds that “the nonpublic school should be provided an opportunity to present additional relevant materials and/or a written statement to the board of education prior to its determination” (emphasis added). This language is completely unacceptable. The rule would allow a local school board to make a decision about the continued existence of a nonpublic school without that school’s knowledge. At the very least, the Rule should be amended to require a school district to notify a nonpublic school if its substantial equivalency is to be considered at the school board level, to provide said nonpublic school with a certain amount of advance notice, and to require that board give the nonpublic school the opportunity to be heard concerning the substantial equivalency review. The third issue was excessiveness. It is completely unnecessary to subject hundreds of nonpublic schools across New York to an onerous new review process simply because of a contention that a few schools are falling short of their obligations. Also, many nonpublic schools are reviewed on a regular basis in order to maintain their respective accreditations; for these schools, a substantial equivalency review would be a waste of time.

NYCF concluded our comments by calling upon NYSED to withdraw or substantially modify the proposed rule.