Registration versus Substantial Equivalency

I. Introduction of Registration versus Substantial Equivalency

A. Development of Christian Schools in New York

B. Definition of Terms

1. Compulsory Education

2. Substantial Equivalency

3. Registered

4. Accredited

II. Implications of Substantial Equivalency 

A. Our Christian Schools are Legal

B. Our Christian Schools face some Limitations

C. Our Schools Enjoy Liberty

III. Impact of Registration

A. Philosophy

B. Program

C. Policies

D. Product



I. Introduction of Registration versus Substantial Equivalency


A. Development of Christian Schools in New York

Education is the primary responsibility of parents. 

Up until 1833, when a public school system was established which was non-sectarian in nature, most schools in this country were established and run by churches. 

With the establishment of public schools only a “common Christianity” was to be taught. In spite of this noble intention, schools still ended up having a definite Protestant bent, and grew to be sectarian in nature. In some areas, Jewish schools also existed. The wave of Catholic immigration of the 19th Century led to conflicts and the formation of Catholic Schools. Protestants saw the pubic schools as a form of “parallel education” in which a “common Christianity” could be imparted to all individuals while the specifics were left up to the different churches to address.

For the first two hundred years of American history, Christians saw no need to break away from the public schools to form their own schools. 

Then came the 1960’s

In 1962 and 1963, public prayers and compulsory Bible reading were prohibited by the U. S. Supreme Court. In the case of prayer, the New York Board of Regents had prescribed a prayer to be said before the start of each day’s classes in the public schools of New York to promote good moral character, provide spiritual training, and help combat juvenile delinquency. The prayer was nonsectarian and stated: 

“Almighty God, We acknowledge our dependence upon thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our Country.”

Justice Hugo Black wrote the following for the majority, “It is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers… the Regent’s prayer is inconsistent both with the purposes of the Establishment Clause and the Establishment Clause itself.” 

In 1963, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 to ban all school prayers and public Bible reading (Murray v. Curlett). 

Although many Christians had been unhappy with the public schools due to the increasing teaching of evolution rather than creation, these two court cases were seen as the “final straw that broke the camel’s back” leaving the door wide open for secular humanism

As a result, the 1970’s and 1980’s saw an explosion of Christian Schools being established – mostly by local churches. New publishing companies also sprang up to meet the need of these schools for a Christian curriculum (ACE, A Beka Press, BJU Press, etc.)

I personally started a Christian School in Michigan during this time period (Otsego Baptist Academy established in 1980). During the first few months, we were contacted and/or inspected by the Michigan Department of Education, the County and State Health Departments, and the Michigan State Police (Fire Marshalls). At the same time, the Michigan Department of Education took two Christian Schools into court as a test case of their requirement of certified teachers (the state lost).

In New York, these Church versus State battles were avoided. This was due to long tradition of non-public schools existing in New York, the recognition by the State Department of Education of the legal right of parents to place their children in independent and religious schools, and the leadership of the New York Association of Christian Schools. Men like Rev. Duane Motley and Rev. Carl Bish worked with the Department and other State officials, to settle differences and establish policies that insure that churches can open and operate a Christian school without government interference. We owe a great debt to these men.

According to the NYSED, 

  • Today 15 % of all children school age in New York State (approximately 500,000) attend 2,400 non-public schools.
  • 30,000 children are home instructed by their parents. [ I believe the number is actually MUCH higher]


B. Definition of Terms


1. Compulsory Attendance: The New York State Department of Education’s “Guidelines for Determining Equivalence of Instruction in Non-Public Schools notes: 

Since 1897, the compulsory attendance law in New York State has required all children between the ages of six and sixteen to be provided with a program of instruction, either at a public school or elsewhere. While the compulsory attendance law protects a child’s right to be educated, the State has long recognized the right of parents to choose an alternative to the public school. Churches, temples, mosques, and other groups of people are guaranteed the right to provide educational programs in accordance with their religious beliefs and educational philosophies. Over the years, nonpublic schools have been an integral part of the total educational system of the State.

Notice that they list two fundamental rights:

a. “The right of parents to choose an alternative to the public schools” and 
b. The right of “Churches…to provide educational programs in accordance with their religious beliefs and educational philosophies.”

The NYSED also states:

“The object of the compulsory attendance law is to see that children are not left in ignorance, that they receive from some source instruction that will prepare them for their place in society.”


2. Substantial Equivalency

“If a child attends a nonpublic school or is being educated at home, the board of education of the school district in which the child resides must be assured that the child is receiving instruction which is substantially equivalent to that provided in the public schools. Thus, the board’s responsibility is to the children living in the district; it has no direct authority over a nonpublic school.’ (ibid).

The guidelines were established to meet this goal in the least intrusive means possible. 
Essentially, a new school is required to write a letter to the local public school superintendent informing him/her of their intention to begin a new school, and submit the following: 

1) Assurance that the building is a safe place for children. The best evidence of this comes from fire inspection reports or, in New York City, a certificate of occupancy issued by the Department of Buildings.

2) A list of names of pupils from the district who will be attending the nonpublic school and the names of other districts in which other pupils reside. These lists will provide data to the district so that it can arrange to provide the services to which those pupils are entitled.

3) A copy of the school calendar for the coming year.

4) A list of grade levels and the total enrollment at each grade level.

5) A list of courses and subjects which will be taught at each grade level in the school.

Once this material has been received and reviewed by the Superintendent, he should make a formal resolution deeming the new school “substantially equivalent.” The Guidelines note that “Although the board of education is not required to pass a formal resolution if it determines that the non-public school’s program is satisfactory, this determination should be a matter of record (ibid).” The new school is informed of this decision by “a letter of substantial equivalency.”

It should be noted that this system has worked well – although public school superintendents usually have not received any training concerning nonpublic schools, and so usually need help with this process. 


3. Registration – “The Board of Regents registers nonpublic secondary schools based upon a review of the school program; compliance with applicable laws, rules, and regulations; and achievement of certain standards.” A nonpublic secondary school may choose not to be registered. Such a choice does not mean that the school program is inadequate. However, a school which is not registered may not administer Regents examinations or award diplomas. In such a case, the board of education must determine equivalency through local review (ibid).”

The high school registration program involves the submission of information by a nonpublic school and an on-site visit to the school by a staff member in the Department’s Bureau of School Registration. The basic standard for registration is that 85% of the seniors enrolled in October of their senior year meet competency requirements by the following June and, further, that the school demonstrate a retention rate at least 90% in the year prior to registration. In addition, every school must comply with applicable laws, rules and regulations. Registered nonpublic secondary schools are reviewed on a ten-year cycle. Every secondary school is encouraged to become registered. For more details go to: (NYSED /P-12/ Part 100 Regulations/100.2 General School Requirements.

Registration brings a school into the University of the State of New York system – or under the control of the Board of Regents and the State Department of Education. 

Registration is not permanent – each school is subject to review by the SED and Board of Regents. 


NOTE: The bottom line is control. 


4. Accreditation is often misunderstood, especially here in New York State. Accreditation is a process whereby a school is evaluated and approved by an outside agency, such as Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools or the New York Association of Independent Schools. The State of New York does not “accredit” any school. Parents and some college administrators will sometimes ask, “Is your school accredited by the State?” The answer is “No, we are not, and neither are public schools.”


II. Implications of Substantial Equivalency

A. Our Christian Schools are Legal

The member schools of the New York Association of Christian Schools have all been deemed to be “substantially equivalent” by their local boards of education. They meet and exceed all legal requirements of the State of New York.

They choose not be “registered with the state” because of strongly held religious convictions related to the separation of church and state.

The State of New York recognizes this, as their legal right, and does not consider such schools as components of the University of the State of New York. 

It also should be noted that our graduates meet and exceed all course requirements set for public schools.


B. Our Christian Schools face some Limitations

1. The Diploma Issue:

Since early in the 1990’s, the New York State Department of Education insists that “Only those public and nonpublic high schools which are registered by the Board of Regents upon recommendation of the commissioner, may issue diplomas and administer Regents examinations.” (Part 100.2 9ps) – Regulations of the Commissioner. 

The NYACS Board of Directors disagrees and has attempted to get this changed. On February 14, 2000 they met with then Commissioner Mills and his Deputy Commission, Mr. Kadamus to discuss this issue. The Board was assured that their schools are legal, that registration is voluntary, and that their schools could graduate students and give a “certificated of graduation,” but that they could not use the word “diploma.” To justify their position, they cited State Education Law 224.2 which states:

No person shall buy, sell or fraudulently or illegally make or alter, give, issue or obtain or attempt to obtain by fraudulent means any diploma, certificate or other instrument purporting to confer any literary, scientific, professional or other degree, or to constitute any license, or a duplicate thereof, or any certificate of registration, or to certify to the completion in whole or in part of any course of study in any university, college, academy or other educational institution.

But this law primarily refers to colleges, and variously uses the terms credential, degree, certificate, and instrument purporting to confer any…degree, or… license, or…certificate of registration in conjunction with the word diploma, obviously using the term in a loose and nonproprietary manner.

We contend that the wording of this law is so vague as to make its application to Christian day schools tenuous at best. Furthermore, the wording of the law prohibits the conferring of “diploma or degree” except by “a regularly organized institution of learning meeting all requirements of law and of the university”. Since there are no requirements of the university applicable to the unregistered schools, and since the unregistered schools of NYACS are “regularly organized” and meet the “requirements of law”, they are not prohibited by law from calling their certificate of graduation a “diploma.”

We conclude: 

Unregistered schools that have been legally constituted in New York State have the right to graduate students who have met all requirements determined by law and by their governing bodies. Such graduations are legitimate, and schools have the right to issue a document to the graduate as a token and symbol of his/her accomplishment.

There is no known law that clearly defines the term diploma or declares it to be a proprietary or protected term. There is no known law that clearly prohibits unregistered schools from labeling their graduation documents diplomas, as long as they are not issued in the name of the State of New York, the State Education Department, or under the seal of the Board of Regents.

Our schools meet the rule of law by being adjudged “substantially equivalent” by the local school superintendent. If we legally exist as “substantially equivalent” schools, there is no reason we can not give a “substantially equivalent” diploma.

Although the State Department of Education has not changed its position, we have not had any legal problem with the issuance of diplomas. In fact, NYACS has had a representative on the Commissioner’s Non-public Schools Advisory Board for over 20 years. When Rev. Duane Motley was on this Board, he annually showed the Commissioner samples of the diplomas from our member schools. Dr. Roger Ellison now serves as our representative on this advisory board. 


2. College Entrance

The growth of the home-school movement created another headache for our Christian schools. A few years ago, the Comptroller audited the records of SUNY-Stony Brook and discovered that a senior had been home-school and did not have a “valid diploma.” This led to a review of entrance requirements for all SUNY and CUNY schools by the Board of Regents. After much study, they changed their Regulations:

Section 3.47 (a) as amended, established the general requirements that a candidate must meet to earn a college degree in New York, including preliminary education requirements that must be met before a degree may be awarded. You should note:

A. Students are not required to demonstrate completion of a four-Year high school course or its Equivalent BEFORE beginning college degree study. The old regulations requiring “satisfactory evidence of a preliminary education of at least a four-year high school or its equivalent” was removed by the Board of Regents.

B. Students do have to demonstrate that they received acceptable preliminary education before they can be awarded a college degree. The Board of Regents gives six possible ways this can be done: 


Holding a high school diploma; or

i. Having completed the substantial equivalent of a four-year high school course, as certified by the Superintendent of Schools or comparable chief school administrator; 


ii. Holding a High School Equivalency Diploma; or

iii. Completing 24 semester hours or the equivalent as a recognized candidate for a college-level degree or certificate at a degree-granting institution, as defined in the regulation (6 semester hours or the equivalent in English Language Arts including writing, speaking and reading (literature), 3 semester hours or the equivalent in Mathematics, 3 semester hours or the equivalent in Natural Sciences, 3 semester hours or the equivalent in Social Sciences, 3 semester hours or the equivalent in Humanities, and 6 semester hours or the equivalent in any other courses within the registered degree or certificate program); or 

iv. Having previously earned and been granted a degree from a degree-granting institution, as defined in the regulation; or 

v. Having passed and completed all requirements for the following five Regents examinations or approved alternative assessments for these examinations: the Regents Comprehensive Examination in English, the Regents examination in mathematics, the Regents examination in United States history and government, a Regents examination in science, and the Regents examination in global history and geography. — Regulations of the Regents

This was designed for home-school graduates to demonstrate the validity of their diplomas, but has been applied to non-registered school graduates too.