School Leaders Back Ruling on ‘Substantial Equivalency’

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Michael Deegan, the interim superintendent of schools in the archdiocese, said he was “very pleased” with last month’s ruling by the New York State Supreme Court regarding “substantial equivalency” between nonpublic schools and public schools, but said he is concerned the State Education Department will not stay “faithful to the original statute.”

“We’re looking for the State Education Department to reassure us they will follow the guidelines as found in the original statute. We suspect they may appeal the ruling,” Deegan told CNY in a phone interview May 6.

The April 17 state Supreme Court ruling struck down the “substantial equivalency” guidelines released by the State Education Department last November. Those guidelines established a timeline for all nonpublic schools in the state to be reviewed by officials from the local public school district, with the results reported to the state education commissioner.

James Cultrara, director for education at the New York State Catholic Conference, told CNY the court viewed the new guidelines as having “a regulatory mandate” subject to the State Administrative Procedures Act.

Cultrara said that he was “glad” the court struck down the new guidelines, but “we’re waiting to see what the State Education Department does before we take a formal position.”

“The state should just follow the guidelines that previously existed and intervene only with those schools where problems have surfaced,” Cultrara said. He said the prior guidelines had been in place for decades, and no one had challenged them.

Deegan told CNY that the school superintendents of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses, who met with Cultrara last week, “unanimously agreed with and are grateful for” the ruling by the New York State Supreme Court striking down the New York State Education Department’s “attempt to implement ill-conceived and ill-thought-out guidelines.”

Deegan said he was “disappointed” that the State Education Department had acted “unilaterally” without consulting the Education Commissioner’s advisory council, comprised of nonpublic schools.

“We are very proud of our long history of providing exemplary education,” Deegan said. “We have no problem demonstrating we exceed the standards set by the New York State Education Department.”

To bolster his point, Deegan cited the archdiocesan school system’s accreditation last month by the national AdvancedEd Accreditation Commission.

Cardinal Dolan, in a statement, said he was “so pleased that the State Supreme Court has rejected the State Education Department’s attempt to homogenize the instruction and values our Catholic schools provide the children we are so fortunate to serve.”

“It is no secret to the tens of thousands of Catholic school families in our archdiocese that our schools go above and beyond in academic rigor,” the cardinal said. “That rich, cutting-edge instruction, coupled with the faith-based mission we strive to fulfill, is what makes Catholic schools so valuable.”

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