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No religion, principal sez- Head of Hebrew-themed school talks

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The principal of a Hebrew-themed charter school insists that Judaism will be absent from the curriculum.

“Religion is not a part of it. It is a public school facility,” Maureen Gonzalez-Campbell told this paper.

The state Board of Regents has given the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School (HLA) the green light to open this September.

The school has yet to secure a location but is searching for a space – expected to be a private facility – within School District 22, which spans Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach and parts of Midwood, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay.

Schools like HLA and the Khalil Gibran Academy, which maintains an Arabic theme, have faced questions about how they will discuss language and culture without touching religion.

Questions have followed HLA because the father of the woman who proposed the school is Michael Steinhardt, chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.

The foundation, which will provide financial support to HLA, 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.”

Gonzalez-Campbell, who is not Jewish, reiterated that Judaism will not be taught at HLA.

“We will follow all guidelines following separation of church and state,” she said. “This is a study of the Hebrew language. Languages are offered in many public schools. There are several charter schools as well that focus on language acquisition.”

The principal explained that Hebrew and Israeli culture will be incorporated into regular class lessons.

“We will infuse the Hebrew culture in some of our studies, particularly in social studies, music and art,” she said. “The Hebrew teacher will be in the classroom with the English-speaking teacher at all times so children will have the opportunity to apply the use of Hebrew language acquisition.”

During a public hearing last summer, the team that proposed HLA said no decision had been made on whether or not kosher food would be served in the school’s cafeteria.

Gonzalez-Campbell, who previously served as deputy superintendent for the Mount Vernon school system, said she has yet to revisit that issue.

“We’re working on our facilities right now,” she said. “I haven’t even addressed the menu component yet.”

According to HLA’s Web site,, “We do not plan on serving kosher food when the school opens. But if parents ask for it, we will certainly consider offering it as an option. We will do the same for halal food.”

In March, HLA will hold information fairs and open houses to attract students for its August 24th start date.

In response to accusations that HLA will target communities with large Jewish populations, Gonzalez-Campbell said, “Our aim is to have a diverse group of students.”

The school will open with 150 students in kindergarten and first grade. It will eventually grow to hold kindergarten through fifth grade with 450 students.

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