Hebrew charter school in Hollywood, Fla., halts language classes over church-state concerns
Associated Press

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/197947

MIAMI A charter school has been ordered to temporarily suspend Hebrew classes while officials try to determine whether teachers are advocating the Jewish faith.

Broward Schools Superintendent James Notter sent a letter to officials at the Ben Gamla Charter School in Hollywood on Wednesday advising them to halt Hebrew classes until the school board could further examine the curriculum.

"If it comes up in the course of conversation, that is one thing, but if it comes to promoting religion or proselytizing, we don't want it to happen," said Keith Bromery, a spokesman for the Broward schools.

School founder Peter Deutsch, a former Democratic congressman, said he told teachers Thursday to halt the Hebrew classes. Deutsch said he shared Notter's aim to ensure religion doesn't enter the new, publicly funded school, which started operations this week.

"His goal and my goal are really exactly the same," Deutsch said.

The ban on Hebrew will extend at least until Sept. 11, when the board next meets. Until then, time that would have been spent on language instruction will be used teaching Israeli geography and Jewish history and culture.

Deutsch said he believes the school has every right to continue Hebrew classes, but decided to stop them to ease concerns. Both he and school board member Eleanor Sobel, in whose district Ben Gamla is located, have described their efforts as "bending over backwards" for one another.

Ben Gamla presented its curriculum to the board for a third time Tuesday, but Sobel said it still had religious overtones.

"We're going into the fourth round now and maybe that's what it takes to get it right," she said.

Ben Gamla, which has about 400 students in kindergarten through eighth grades, has generated controversy since it was proposed. Students follow state curriculum, but also were to take a Hebrew language course, and one of their core subjects math or physical education, for example was to be taught bilingually as well.

The school takes its name from a Jewish high priest, serves kosher food, and its director is a rabbi.