A state Supreme Court judge yesterday voided the bulk of New York’s “substantial equivalence” regulations aimed at religious and other non-public schools, essentially saying the state’s compulsory schooling rules apply to parents rather than institutions.

The regulations, which gave the state Education Department (SED) and local education officials new powers to scrutinize the type and quality of education delivered by non-public schools, were adopted by the Board of Regents in September. Under the new rules, education officials were empowered to decide whether students were getting an education that was “substantially equivalent” to what they’d get in a public school based on factors ranging from whether instruction is taking place in English to whether the school is offering instruction in math, science, and physical education. Schools that didn’t make the cut would no longer be considered “schools” with respect to the state law that requires parents to educate their children.

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said they were necessary “to ensure all students receive an education that enables them to fulfill their potential and teaches them the skills and knowledge needed to contribute to society and participate in civic life.”

A group of schools and parent groups sued to block the regulations, arguing among other things that they were targeted at Orthodox Jewish schools.

Albany County Supreme Court Justice Christina Ryba’s decision, handed down yesterday, centered on the question of what would be considered a “school” in the state’s eyes and whether the state was empowered to effectively shut one down if it didn’t meet state standards.

“Notably, there is no provision of the Compulsory Education Law that requires parents to completely unenroll their children from nonpublic schools that do not fulfill all of the substantial equivalency requirements.”

Instead, Ryba wrote, if a school is not checking every box set by the Legislature, parents are expected to supplement it, rather than relying on “merely one source of instruction provided at a single location.”

“So long as the child receives a substantially equivalent education, through some source or combination of sources, the Legislative purpose of compulsory education is satisfied,” the judge added.

Ryba also ruled a portion of the regulations were “arbitrary and irrational” because they allowed local school officials to shut down any school that didn’t meet state standards, something the Legislature hadn’t empowered them to do.

The regulations had the potential to drastically expand the control state officials wield over the more than 400,000 New York students in non-public schools, which range from long-established religious and secular schools to new, innovative micro-schools.

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