Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gov. Vetoes Ethnocentric Special Ed. Bill

On June 21, the last day of the N.Y. State legislative session, without public notice or discussion, legislators passed a special-education bill that discriminated among children on religious grounds and funded religious schools.

When the friends of public education, including MCPEARL, found out about it, we forcefully urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to veto the bill and he did.

In June, the Westchester Journal News reported, “Orthodox Jewish groups, which often advocate for parents to be able to choose insular private schools for their children, played a key role in crafting and lobbying for the bill.”

At least one of the bill’s supporters has a strange notion of public education.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed Rabbi Naftuli Weiss, who runs the Jewish Center for Special Education in Brooklyn. “Of particular concern to his families, Rabbi Weiss said, was the moral dangers that could come from integrating his students with other cultures—with revealing dress and violent games and media. ‘It’s a killer for them to see and hear what’s going on,’ he said.”

The bill was deceptively phrased, so hurried legislators at the end of a session could miss its implications.

It required school districts to consider “any possible impact differences between the school environment and the child’s home environment may have on the ability to receive a free appropriate public education. Such determination shall include documentation as to whether these factors would affect the child’s ability to learn.” [italics added]

The bill authorized parents who didn’t like a school district’s decision to sue for religious-school tuition payments.

Of course, school officials should consider the parents’ opinions. The tricky words were any possible and documentation. If parents think their child might possibly learn better among his or her co-religionists, what documents could a district produce in court to prove the parents wrong?

The Westchester Journal News reported that State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, former chair of the Senate Education Committee, voted for the bill “because it was part of a group of supposedly ‘non-controversial’ bills. “Once she realized the bill’s goals, she said, she decided to write to Cuomo that he should veto it.”

According to the N.Y. Times, “the bill’s chief Assembly sponsor, Helene Weinstein of Brooklyn, issued a statement vowing to ‘continue the fight,’ suggesting she would try to muster the two-thirds majority required to override the veto.” The Times article continued, “James Cultrara, education director of the New York State Catholic Conference, said that if the veto were not overriden, supporters would push for a new version of the bill…to win over some opponents.”

MCPEARL urged the governor to veto the bill. We also wrote to Monroe County’s state legislators and asked them to press for a veto.

In answer to our letter, Assemblyman Mark Johns wrote that he had voted against the bill, because it would place an excessive burden on public school districts.

The following State Senators from Monroe County voted for the bill: Alesi, Robach, Gallivan, and Ranzenhofer. Senators Nozzolio and Maziarz voted against it. The following Monroe County Assemblymen voted for the bill: Hanna, Bronson, Morelle, and Gantt. Assemblymen Reilich, Johns, and Hawley voted against it.

The bill probably violated the N.Y. Constitution’s Art. XI, Sec. 3, which says, “Neither the state nor any subdivision thereof, shall use its property or credit or any public money, or authorize or permit either to be used, directly or indirectly, in aid or maintenance, other than for examination or inspection, of any school or institution of learning wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination or in which any denominational tenet or doctrine is taught.…”

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