Letter from DOE about NY Yeshivas and Substantial Equivalency

Chancellor Carranza sent a letter to Commissioner Elia today regarding the ridiculously long process of determining whether certain yeshivas in New York meet requirements of providing substantially equivalent instruction. Below is the text and images of the letter.

December 27, 2018

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia
New York State Commissioner of Education 
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234

RE: Substantial Equivalency Inquiry

Dear Commissioner Elia,

As you know, in July 2015, the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) received a letter raising questions about the substantial equivalency of instruction in 39 yeshivas located in New York City (the “July 2015 letter”). After receiving this letter, DOE undertook an inquiry to assess the secular instruction being provided at these schools, as fully described in my August 15, 2018, letter to you.

I am writing at this time to make a recommendation regarding four of these yeshivas – all high schools – pursuant to the substantial equivalency guidance issued by SED on November 20, 2018 (the “Guidance”). In addition, I am writing to address two other of these yeshiva high schools. I am aware that representatives of the yeshivas and DOE have recently written to SED seeking guidance on topics covered by this letter, but I believe it prudent, particularly as regards the four high schools, to have our concerns addressed formally through a recommendation made pursuant to the Guidance.

Under the Guidance, local school authorities are required to review documentation and visit non-public schools to assess, among other things, the education being provided.

DOE has visited 24 schools and has engaged in productive dialogue with those schools and their representatives. As noted in my August 15, 2018, letter to you, many of these schools have purchased and begun implementing a culturally responsive, Common Core-aligned curriculum. However, despite DOE’s efforts over the past nearly two and on-half years, it has been unable to gain access to six high schools named in the July 2015 letter.

As discussed below, one of the high schools is registered and therefore, pursuant to the Guidance, it has been determined by the Board of Regents to provide substantially equivalent education. A second high school may or not be registered, depending on how SED views multi-site schools. For the remaining four high schools, DOE has been prevented, despite multiple attempts, from conducting the review required by the Guidance. As a result, we are unable to determine that the schools are providing a substantially equivalent education.

Efforts to Visit the High Schools

DOE has on many occasions asked to meet with school officials and observe the instruction provided at the high schools named in the July 2015 letter. However, yeshiva representatives have consistently refused to act on our requests to schedule these visits. The following is a list of relevant actions taken by DOE, including requests to visit the high schools and other schools:

  • August 3, 2016: requested visits to all schools, including high schools, at a visit with yeshiva community leaders
  • December 5, 2016: email and form letter (to be completed by school leaders for each school) sent to yeshiva counsels; form letter included requests for school visits
  • January 13, 2017: email to yeshiva counsel stating that his response did not address DOE’s request for school visits
  • March 2017 through May 2017: DOE visited 6 elementary schools
  • August 24, 2017: letter to yeshiva counsel seeking to schedule visits to the then remaining 33 schools (including the high schools) that would begin in September 2017
  • September 7, 2017: letter to yeshiva counsel, noting that he did not respond to August 24th letter and providing proposed dates to visit the remaining 33 schools
  • September 12, 2017: email to yeshiva counsel regarding the scheduling of dates for the remaining 33 schools
  • October 6, 2017: email to yeshiva counsel requesting dates for visits
  • October 8 through October 20, 2017: emails between counsel for DOE and counsel for yeshivas regarding schedule for visits to 9 schools by year-end and 9 visits in January and February
  • November 2017 through December 2017: DOE visited 9 elementary schools
  • December 29, 2017: email to counsel for yeshivas requesting locations for visits in January. In January 2018, counsel for yeshivas cancelled first January date and said he was putting the visits on hold
  • October 2018 through November 2018: DOE visited 9 elementary schools
  • October 31, 2018: DOE requested dates for visiting high schools
  • November 14, 2018: DOE requested dates for visiting high schools
  • November 16, 2018: DOE requested dates for visiting high schools
  • December 10, 2018: DOE requested dates for visiting high schools

None of DOE’s requests resulted in scheduled visits to the high schools, or even the offer of alternative dates. Significantly, under SED’s prior substantial equivalency guidance, updated on AUgust 12, 2015, (“Prior Guidance”), visits to schools for which there was a “serious concern…about equivalency of instruction” were to be scheduled “at a mutually convenient time.” Prior Guidance, p. 7.

On December 10, 2018, DOE’s General Counsel sent an email to yeshiva counsel stating:

**As you know, we have repeatedly sought to schedule dates to visit the high school named in the complaint. Most recently, on November 14, 2018, we sent you a list of 13 possible dates for visits to the six school. The next day, you informed us that you would be out of the country in early January, retunring January 14, but you did not address the remaining dates in January that we have proposed. We followed up on November 16, but received no response regarding the dates.

We are writing now in a final attempt to schedule visits to the six high schools. We remain available on January 14-17 and January 28-31. We will have received training from SED by December 20. If we have not successfully scheduled visits to the high schools within the range above by that date, we will take such action as we deem appropriate.**

In response to this email, on December 20, yeshiva counsel confirmed that the four schools would “work with DOE to identify mutually convenient dates for visits in late January or early February” and stated he would be “available to talk tomorrow [Friday, December 21] or Monday [December 24] to discuss possible dates.” Yeshiva counsel and DOE counsel spoke briefly on December 21 and agreed to speak again on Monday, December 24. However, rather than having that conversation “to discuss possible dates,” yeshiva counsel sent an email to you concerning our request.

Regarding that email, DOE’s desire to schedule visits to the four high schools comes from the simple fact that we’ve been unable to, despite our repeated efforts as described above. As yeshiva counsel knows, DOE’s obligation to visit these schools comes from their inclusion in a complaint to DOE about substantial equivalency. We are not singling them out – unfairly or otherwise – for special treatment, but, after consultation with the Department, our understanding is that the promulgation of the new guidance does not mean that the current inquiry must be halted. We readily agreed to wait for training, and will of course follow any additional guidance SED provides, but, in light of the schools’ longstanding refusal to actually provide actual dates for the visits, we do not believe our insistence on receiving them is in any way improper.

Upon request, we can provide relevant email exchanges showing DOE’s efforts to schedule visits to the high schools.

Applicable Guidance

As a result of this lack of cooperation and consistent delay on the part of yeshiva representatives, we are unable at this time to determine in accordance with the Guidance whether four of the six high schools in issue are providing substantially equivalent instruction.

The Guidance prescribes the process that must be adhered to in substantial equivalency investigations of nonpublic schools. The Guidance makes clear that the “intent of the substantial equivalency determination process is to ensure that all students receive the education to which they are entitled under law.” Guidance, p. 1. The guidance recognizes that the determination process is not a one-way street, but rather requires that both the Local School Authority (“LSA”) and the nonpublic school must each contribute to and cooperate in the process: “The determination process is a collaborative effort that is intended to be a mutually beneficial learning process for leaders of both public and nonpublic schools.” Id. To that end, the Guidance contemplates that in conducting its review, the LSA will visit nonpublic schools. The Guidance states, “All religious and independent schools will be visited as part of the process…” Guidance, p. 3. This makes sense, of course, because if would be difficult, if not impossible, to reach a conclusion or recommendation about the education being provided at a school without observing the instruction being provided at the school.

Recommendations

DOE has been unable to gain access to or information about the following high schools and therefore DOE requests that you, as Commissioner, take immediate and necessary steps to ensure our access to these schools pursuant to the Guidance. If these efforts fail, DOE recommends that you determine the schools do not provide a substantially equivalent education (see Gudiance, at p. 1): [footnote: Furthermore, the yeshivas have not confirmed that the schools involved fall within the scope of the April Amendments to Education Law S 3204(2). Although the GUidance provides that “[r]eligious and independent schools that believe they meet the criteria for the Commissioner to make the determination regarding substantial equivalency should inform the LSA representatives at the outset of a review,” id. at p. 2, yeshiva representatives have not done so. Given this, and based on what DOE has learned about these schools through its own research, we are assuming that they are schools for which the Commissioner would make the substantial equivalency determination pursuant to the April 2018 Amendments to Education Law S 3204 and the Guidance, absent any indication to the contrary.]

1. Bais Ruchel D’Satmar High School
64-84 Harrison Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211

2. Talmud Torah Bnei Shimon 
215 Hewes Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211

3. Yeshiva Chemdas Yisroel Kerem Shlomo
1149 38th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11218

4. United Talmudic Academy
5411 Fort Hamilton Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11219

As to the other high schools that the yeshiva representatives have prevented the DOE from visiting, one is a high school registered by the Board of Regents and the other may or may not be a registered high school. Yeshiva Mesifta Bais Yisroel, located at 5407 16th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11204, is listed in SEDREF as a registered high school, and therefore, pursuant to the Guidance, at pp. 1-2, has been determined by the Board of Regents to provide substantially equivalent education.

However, for Lubavitcher High School, the registration is unclear. Specifically, the July 2015 lists three addresses for Lubavitcher High School. SEDREF reflects that Lubavitcher High School located at 841 Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, New York, is registered. However, SEDREF does not list the other two addesses in the July 2015 letter.

Our research confirms that, in addition to the Lubavitcher High School located on 841 Ocean Parkway, there are two other Lubavitcher High Schools at the following addresses:

1. 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York; and
2. 885 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York.

Our questions relate to how we should approach the entities located at these other two addressed. We are unable to determine whether they are registered, because they are not listed in SEDREF. We therefore request your assistance on the following questions:

1. Based on SED’s records, are these two other sites associated with Lubavitcher High School located at 841 Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, New York?
2. If so, does the registration status of the school located at 841 Ocean Parkway apply to them?

Thank you for your consideration and advice.

Sincerely,

Richard A. Carranza
Chancellor

cc: Avi SChick
Karin Goldmark
Howard Friedman



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