The Hebrew Language Academy Charter School (HLA) is now officially open — in a yeshiva.
HLA, which is a public school receiving tax dollars as well as private funding, is operating on the first floor of Yeshiva Rambam, 3340 Kings Highway.
Critics say the space-sharing arrangement gives the appearance that HLA is blurring the line between church and state.
“I think that it kind of muddies the water on their original intent,” said Christopher Spinelli, president of District 22’s Community Education Council (CEC), which represents Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach and parts of Midwood, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay.
“It definitely detracts from the fact of it being a non-religious school,” Spinelli added. “To house it in a religious facility raises valid questions from people who are concerned about church, state issues.”
A spokesperson for HLA says the school had no choice but to open in the yeshiva, which sits on property owned by the city.
First, HLA failed to secure a private facility, then hundreds of Marine Park residents protested the city Department of Education’s (DOE) planned placement of HLA in I.S. 278 on Stuart Street. This left the HLA team with just weeks to find a new home.
“This was not the preferred choice for the location for the school,” HLA spokesperson Dan Gerstein said of Yeshiva Rambam.
When HLA was searching for a private facility, the yeshiva was considered but ultimately dismissed as a suitable location because HLA didn’t want to appear affiliated with a religious institution.
HLA had “two months to basically run a crash search to find an appropriate facility. That meant there were extremely limited options,” Gerstein said. “It became clear that the Yeshiva Rambam was the only viable option.”
“People are going to jump to conclusions and make assumptions but all we can do is be really transparent,” he added.
The charter school is housed on the first floor of the yeshiva, which caters to high school grades. HLA’s 160 students, in first grade and kindergarten, have no interaction with the yeshiva’s students, Gerstein said. The schools use separate entrances and arrival and dismissal times are staggered, he noted.
HLA will incorporate the teaching of Hebrew into coursework, but officials insist that there will be no religious instruction.
“We understand the concerns based on appearances,” Gerstein said, but, “there’s no church, state issue here.”
Gerstein said HLA’s situation is not uncommon.
“There are several charter schools that are renting space from religious institutions or housed in buildings owned by religious institutions,” said Gerstein, who provided a list that included the Hellenic Classical Charter School, which is housed in the Dormition Greek Orthodox Church in Sunset Park.
HLA will remain at Yeshiva Rambam for three years. At that point, the school plans to secure a private facility for 450 students in kindergarten to fifth grade.
©2009 Community News Group
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