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Decision due on Hebrew charter school

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City officials are now deciding if a Hebrew-themed charter school will open in Brooklyn.

“By the end of this September, there should be a decision,” District 22 Community Superintendent Marianne Ferrara explained at a recent meeting of the local Community Education Council (CEC).

The group that submitted the application for the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School will soon undergo another interview session with city Department of Education (DOE) officials.

“Hebrew Language Academy is still under consideration. We are not going to have a determination on it probably for another month at least,” explained DOE spokesperson Melody Meyer.

If the DOE green lights the application, it will be sent to the state Board of Regents for final approval. The Board of Regents will review the proposal and make a final decision this December or January 2009.

The applicants for the Hebrew Language Academy want the school to open within School District 22, which includes Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach and parts of Midwood, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay.

The lead applicant for the school is Sara Berman, a columnist for the New York Sun, which fiercely opposed the creation of the Khalil Gibran Academy, the city’s first Arabic-themed school. Berman’s father is Michael Steinhardt, an owner of the Sun and chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.

The school would be housed in a privately-funded facility and receive financial support from the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, which lists its long-term goal as “the emergence of a thriving, dynamic and creative Jewish community whose contributions to American culture are informed and inspired by distinctive Jewish values that are fully compatible with life in the open society.”

A public hearing was held earlier this summer to give parents and community residents a chance to hear details about the school proposal and offer their opinions to DOE representatives.

The hearing quickly turned into a contentious battle about maintaining separation of church and state.

“It’s not a secret that Michael Steinhardt is the main funder,” District 22 CEC President Christopher Spinelli said at the hearing. “He’s gone on record saying that Hebrew charter schools would be a cheaper way of strengthening Jewish identity.”

Berman insisted that religion would not be taught at the school. Students would study the “history of the world Jewish community as it relates to the Hebrew language,” she said.

The school would teach a standard social studies curriculum but “it just has little pieces woven into it – really a very small percentage – that relate to the Hebrew language,” Berman said.

There would also be “one hour of Hebrew instruction each day.”

Berman said Hebrew would be incorporated into other subjects, like art and gym, as students work to become fluent in Hebrew by graduation.

Berman said she and her design team consulted the “finest constitutional lawyers” to ensure that the school would abide by separation of church and state.

Berman said there were no plans for the charter school to maintain a kosher kitchen, however, the school would try to make accommodations “if there’s a specific demand from the parents for kosher food or Halal food.”

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