New NYC universal prekindergarten rules aim to bring in Orthodox religious schools

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — New York City has developed new rules for its universal prekindergarten program in order to bring Orthodox religious schools under its educational umbrella.

Under the new rules, which will start in September, the schools may spread the hours per week requirement for secular education over six days, and can hold school on federal holidays in order to make up for days missed for religious observances. The school day also may be interrupted for “non-program activities,” such as prayer after lunch.


Any program that holds a break for a specific activity, such as prayer, will have to provide an alternative activity for any students whose parents do not want them to participate.

The new rules were set out in a letter from Richard Buery Jr., a deputy mayor in charge of the program, that private preschool providers were to receive this week.

The new rules are a result of a compromise by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration that is intended to increase participation by Orthodox Jewish and other private schools in the initiative, according to The New York Times. The mayor plans to reach his goal of some 70,000 children in full-day prekindergarten by the fall. Currently there are about 53,000 enrolled, according to the newspaper. The city’s preliminary 2016 budget sets aside $340 million for the initiative.

City estimates show that 8,000 to 10,000 toddlers are eligible to attend prekindergarten among the Orthodox student population, the Hamodia Jewish newspaper reported.

Current regulations allow prekindergartens at religious schools to give hiring preference to applicants of the same religion or denomination, and to use religious texts as part of secular lessons, according to The New York Times.