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Proposed 'Prayer Breaks' in NYC Pre-K Has Some Concerned

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Proposed 'Prayer Breaks' in NYC Pre-K Has Some Concerned

2015-03-18 10:10:111 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST

-by Yuliya Geikhman, Staff Writer; Image: Pre-K kids (Image Source: Eden, Janine and Jim/Flickr)

The universal pre-K program that launched recently has been facing a number of issues since its inception. The latest resistance is coming from civil liberties groups concerned with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to allow prayer and religious instruction breaks in pre-K classrooms.

The idea of universal pre-K is to give all parents the option to send their kids to classrooms for free. Some of the schools running pre-K programs are public, but a large chunk are privately owned by communities and organizations, and religious groups.

Classroom spaces and teachers are in demand, and de Blasio’s plans depend on the support of as many of the city’s schools as possible. The mayor’s proposal is aimed at including these private religious schools, especially the Orthodox Jewish schools.

The proposal announced last month states that starting next year, pre-K classrooms will be allowed to have breaks in the middle of the day for “non-program” activities, including prayer and religious classes. To make up for potential lost time, these schools will be allowed to run six days a week instead of five, to allow extra time to fulfil the minimum classroom hours requirement.

A number of civil liberties groups have spoken up against the proposal, noting that this mix of religion and public schooling are a violation of constitutional rights. Barry Lynn of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State noted that “It’s kind of like waving a red flag in front of a bull. This seems to be asking for a lawsuit."

Some Roman Catholic schools are already operating on a similar program, letting children who wish to take part in religious instruction come in half an hour early to school in the morning. A break in the middle of the day seems like an entirely different matter, since it will exclude the kids who aren’t participating.

Even with this proposed break, many Jewish Orthodox schools will still not participate in the universal pre-K program, saying that the city’s restrictions would be too limiting and not provide enough time for religious instruction.

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