Culling the Curriculum // Exploring the state’s next steps with Attorney Avi Schick

Q: Please bring us up to speed on the state’s reaction to the decision of the court to nullify the new curriculum requirements.
A: The good news is that the deadline for the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to file its appeal has passed, and it will not be appealing. That door is now closed.
On a less positive note, last Friday NYSED issued a press release announcing that it will release proposed regulations on July 3 for public comment. Several members of the Board of Regents expressed concern about the path NYSED has chosen, but that is where things are for now.

Q: Just to understand the process, what will it take for them to enact new regulations?
A: The initial step is for NYSED to release the proposed regulations for public comment. After a 60-day period, the Board of Regents, which has 17 members, would have to vote on whether or not to adopt those regulations. Very often, public hearings are held in connection with proposed regulations, but I’m quite confident that NYSED will not schedule even a single one.
NYSED does have an obligation—at least in theory—to respond to comments that come in from the public, and they have to prepare an analysis of the impact of these proposed regulations. But the most important element of the review period is the opportunity to provide comment.
The entire private-school community—including the Catholic schools, the independent school community and the yeshivos—remain united in opposition to the proposed regulations. So we will be working with our partners to make sure that parents, graduates, school leaders and schools submit many thousands of comments expressing their disappointment with the proposed regulations, which undermine parental and educational choice.

Q: How optimistic are you about possible remedies once they go down this route?
A: We are optimistic. On November 20 of last year, the commissioner announced her guidelines to great fanfare and threatened non-compliant parents and schools with drastic penalties. We were able to work together to defeat that mandate, and working together, we will defeat this proposal too.
We have already had discussions with the Catholic and independent schools, and just as before, everyone wants to reach a resolution with the state that they can live with. That is our goal. We have tried to engage with NYSED and the Board of Regents and will continue to do so.
But if NYSED is as unyielding in this process as it was with the guidelines, we will protect our rights in court, and we are optimistic about the outcome we would achieve there. Again, that isn’t anyone’s first choice; it’s the last choice. But if the state doesn’t engage and doesn’t take into account the opposition of every segment of the private-school community, and if the Board of Regents chooses to ignore that—and I don’t think it will happen, particularly at the Regents level—I am confident that the Catholic and independent schools will sue and that the yeshivos will join as well.

Q: What motivation would the Board of Regents have to go one way or the other?
A: As I said, there was already a fair discussion last week about the appropriateness of the proposed regulations. So even without any effort on the part of the private schools, there was pushback, and there were Regents board members who voiced concern about why NYSED is embarking on this path.
Additionally, one of the senior members of the Board of Regents was quoted in an Albany newspaper as saying that changes will have to be made to the proposed regulations for the Board of Regents to look at them favorably. That is an indication that there is already skepticism among the Regents about the NYSED proposal.

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