SCHOOLS Chancellor Joel Klein is about to receive an application to create a Hebrew-language charter school. Welcome to New York City's next big new-school controversy.
Debate continues over the year-old Khalil Gibran International Academy - a non-charter Arab-language school. And the Hebrew school is sure to face objections from groups that suspect instruction will include a religious element.
If approved, the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School would open with 150 co-ed students in kindergarten and 1st grade, with plans to add a grade each year and grow to a total of 450 kids. The location: ethnically diverse Community School District 22 in central and southern Brooklyn.
The school's lead applicant is journalist Sara Berman. Among its key supporters is her father, Michael Steinhardt, a major benefactor of NYU's Steinhardt School of Education.
The school would cover the core academic subjects, but be the first New York charter school to also offer Hebrew-language instruction. (A few regular New York public schools offer Hebrew as a foreign-language elective.) It would also teach about Jewish culture and history and modern Israeli society.
That approach is similar to that of the Hellenic Charter School in Brooklyn, which pairs instruction in classical Greek and Latin with classes in Greek culture and history. Other language/culture charter schools in New York include Amber Charter School in Washington Heights and the Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School in Rochester, which both feature instruction in Spanish and in Hispanic cultures.
The Hebrew Academy would avoid teaching religious doctrine (and respect other constitutional limits), but this charter application will still spark complaints. Extremists (like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) act as if any discussion of religion in public schools imperils the republic.
In fact, US schools (especially in states like New York) typically steer too far from the topic. They avoid any thorough discussion of religion - shortchanging students.