Sunday, August 14, 2011

New proposal for integrating faith-based schools into the public system

I've been trying to design a framework for integrating faith-based school with the public system, in a way that meets the goals and values of each. I call these "surround school" concepts, since the faith-based program "surrounds" the public school component.

Here are possible models:

Model 1 - Integrating existing faith-based schools:

The public school board would lease space from the existing faith-based school, and use it to run a public school program within the facility.

The schedules of the public and faith-based schools will be coordinated, so that students will attend one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and will have the same holidays.

Existing general studies teachers who meet the basic requirements for the public system will be absorbed by the public system.

While there is coordination, the public school will be a separate legal entity, subject to the policies of the public school board. The faith-based school will have no control over admissions, dress code or curriculum. There will be a parent advisory council, who may address cultural and religious issues (like explaining why students may wish to avoid Halloween, for example), but final decisions on curriculum will be made by the public school board.

All of the religious activity and instruction would take place in those parts of the facility that are not leased by the public school.


Public school leases one side of the school.

Students may arrive at school for an early prayer service, then proceed to the public school side in time for morning classes. The lunch room will be on the faith-based side, while the gym, art and music areas will be on the public side. After lunch, the morning students proceed to the faith-based classes, while the other half of the students file into the public school side for their general studies classes. After those classes, students may go back to the faith-based side for more prayers or other after-school programming.

If a child in the area doesn't want the faith-based programming, they can simply attend the public school program. The hours may be a bit different, but the curriculum is essentially the same.

Model 2 - for new faith-based school programs:

There would be a facility, used by the public school to run its program. The school and its program would be designed so that special groups, including faith-based groups, could lease space for their programs before, after and even during lunch break of the public school program.

Again, there would be coordination of schedules and school calendar, and a parent advisory council, but the public school would retain control of admissions, basic policies and curriculum.

In addition - more than one faith could be operating in conjunction with a given public school, so students would have an opportunity to learn with those of different faiths.

Some of these schools may be single-gender, as long as a similar school for the other gender is located nearby.

The public school part of the curriculum may include language instruction.


Faith-based students may arrive early, and go to prayer services in rooms leased for their particular faith - Jewish in room 101, Muslim in room 102, Hindu in room 103, Christian in room 104, etc. After that, the public school program would begin. If the schedule allows it to run in 2 shifts, faith-based programs can operate in their leased spaces at the same time so that student can do one in the morning, one in the afternoon.


1. Makes the public system more inclusive, by accommodating religious needs.
2. Reduces inequality (where I live, only the Catholic system receives public funding)
3. Reduces extreme financial burden of religious education for those communities.
4. Ensures that basic public curriculum is taught.
5. Public funding does not go to any program that is not open to all members of the public, nor to pay for religious content.
6. Preserves the ease of scheduling that makes parents choose religious day schools over public school plus supplemental education.


EDTeitz said...

The challenges I see with this structure fall into two categories: legal and religious. While the US Supreme Court has upheld the right of student run religious groups to use public school facilities not during school hours, I'm not sure it would fly during school hours.

And even if the federal laws might permit something, state laws would add severe restrictions. A state like Massachusetts does not even permit state funding of secular special education in religious schools on the grounds of separation of church and state. Canada has no such law which allows for much greater flexibility in supplying instruction.

The religious side of the objections would be in going to a public school with the general population, using the public school curriculum, and not having any oversight for that half day of instruction. One of the main drivers of day school education is the creation of a total environment, where everything is under the supervision of the Judaism-based administration. Open the doors and people will shy away.

In actuality, absent the Judaic component of your suggestion, this is exactly what a Hebrew language charter school is. Not many people have flocked to that model.

JRKmommy said...

Re legal issues:

This would require some serious study by local legal experts. I admit that I'm far more familiar with the Canadian educational system than the American.

The proposal, though, revolves around maintaining a separation between the public school entity and the faith-based programs, even if both are located in the same building. The whole notion of "school hours" can be modified in this model.

In Ontario, public funding for special needs in Jewish schools was also rejected. Under this proposal, public funding would be provided in a public school program - which would happen to be structured in a way that allows students to easily integrate an additional faith-based program into their day.

There are a few multi-use buildings in my area. A community center, public school and Catholic school may be housed under the same roof, in different wings, in a way that allows for shared use of some amenities.

We also see supplemental Hebrew schools leasing space in public schools for classes that take place after school and/or on Sundays. I also know of a local shul that leases space in the high school for Shabbat services.

Re religious issues:

You are correct that my model doesn't create a "total environment", in the sense that it is possible for a non-Jewish student to attend the public school portion, and that the public school board would ultimately determine curriculum.

I note that you don't say that this is against halacha (Jewish law). Instead, you say that people will "shy away".

Obviously, that will depend very much on the particular community. In looking at this issue, though, I think we need to look broadly at the ENTIRE Jewish community, and consider who may give their children a Jewish education if it was more affordable.

My kids go to a large community Jewish day school which already follows the Ontario curriculum for general studies. It's nice that the teachers acknowledge Jewish holidays and not others (although my kids did learn to say "kung hey fat choy" on Chinese New Year as part of their social studies), but even the local public schools here will keep out Xmas and Halloween. If the concerns go beyond that to objecting to basic science, history, etc. - then yes, you do have a segment of the population that SHOULD be paying for its own education or home schooling.