Catholic schools, such as Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, will not be subject to review by public school boards, a judge rules.
Catholic schools, such as Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, will not be subject to review by public school boards, a judge rules.

Diocesan schools scored a big win last week. 

On April 17, a key portion of the controversial State Education Department substantial equivalency guidelines was struck down in court. 

New York State Supreme Court Judge Christina L. Ryba ruled in favor of the plaintiffs (which included the New York State Council of Catholic School Superintendents) who challenged the state’s plan to have local public schools visit and evaluate all private schools to determine if Catholic schools are “substantially equivalent” to public education.

"The NYS Council of Catholic School Superintendents is very pleased that the court struck down the State Education Department’s plan to have public schools evaluate private schools,” said James D. Cultrara, director for education of the New York State Catholic Conference. 

“We’ve prided ourselves on going above and beyond state academic standards. Parents have always chosen our schools because of that rigor and they can remain confident in the strength of our schools going forward.”

The guidance was challenged in three separate lawsuits: by Jewish organizations and 
schools, by the NYS Association of Independent Schools, as well as individual schools; and by the Catholic school superintendents and individual schools.

All three challenges were consolidated in oral arguments, which were heard on April 15. In her ruling, Judge Ryba stated that the “guidance” actually amounted to mandatory “rules,” which were not implemented in compliance with the State Administrative Procedures Act, and were therefor nullified.

Giovanni Virgiglio, superintendent of schools for the Albany Diocese, said: “We appreciate the court's quick decision and we now shift our advocacy toward working with our state counterparts to ensure the long-standing review process continues to be fair, objective and reasonable." 

Since the nullification, the State Education Department’s “Updated Guidance and Resources on Substantial Equivalency of Instruction” has been removed from the NYSED website. 

The substantial equivalency guidelines, which were announced in 2018, were designed to ensure that all denominational schools in the state are meeting basic education requirements in subjects such as English and math. 

According to the guidelines, each parochial school in the state would have been subject to a review by its local school board. After each review, the board would hold a vote on whether the school is” substantially equivalent” to a public education and could potentially determine a school unfit. 

Religious and private schools in the state were firmly against the guidelines, because the institutions felt they would be at the mercy of “competitive” local schools, and would allow local schools to essentially supersede the state’s determination and authority over the operation of Catholic schools. 

While the revised guidance has been struck down, the law remains in effect that all Catholic and private schooling must be substantially equivalent to that of the school district in which the they reside. 

As the SED evaluates next steps, all currently scheduled public school evaluation trainings have been cancelled. Updates will be posted on the Department’s substantial equivalency webpage as appropriate.

The Catholic Superintendents will continue to work with the Board of Regents, the governor and SED staff on finding a process that both enforces the substantial equivalency law and is fair to all parties involved.