The city Department of Education (DOE) has approved the creation of a Hebrew-themed charter school.
The Hebrew Language Academy Charter School’s proposal is now under review by the state Board of Regents, which will have final say on whether the school will open next September. A decision is expected 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.
However, District 22 parents and the local Community Education Council (CEC) have expressed concern about whether the school will abide by separation of church and state laws.
“I don’t agree with it,” District 22 CEC President Christopher Spinelli said of the DOE’s approval. “We did not get a good look or any look at the curriculum. We just got some assurances that it would be a non-religious school but without actually seeing anything, it’s hard to make that judgment.”
Adding to the fire is the team behind the school. The lead applicant is Sara Berman, a columnist for the now defunct New York Sun, which fiercely opposed the creation of the city’s first Arabic-themed charter school. Berman’s father is Michael Steinhardt, an owner of the Sun and chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.
At a public hearing in June, Berman asserted, “There will not be a drop of religious observance taught in this school.”
“My concern has always been that the separation of church and state be maintained,” said Michael Benjamin, first vice president of District 22’s CEC. “If indeed they operate a school with certain cultural enhancements, no religious instruction, and follow the city and state educational requirements, then many of my original concerns have been properly addressed.”
If the charter school is ultimately given the green light to open in District 22, local schools could lose money, Spinelli said. That’s because the DOE’s new Fair Student Funding system provides cash based on the number of students in a school. So if students enroll in the charter school rather than traditional public schools, those traditional schools will miss out on thousands of dollars.
“Our schools don’t need resources taken from them as students leave and go to a charter school,” Spinelli said. “It’s going to be a blow to district schools.”
“I think it’s going to be very divisive and that was very evident at the public hearing,” Spinelli noted. “Parents do not see this as a good thing. I’m sure it’s going to have its supporters but it seems like it has more detractors than supporters.”
©2008 Community News Group
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