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East Brunswick, N.J. – A proposed Hebrew charter school has ignited a debate over the separation of church and state.
The school, which would require Hebrew classes, has divided the local Jewish community and raised arguments about whether the school should run on taxpayer money.
The founders argue their school would steer clear of religion while teaching a vital 21st-century skill — a second language that would prepare students for the global economy. Critics, however, charge it is a thinly veiled and unfairly competitive substitute for a local private Jewish school that teaches religion and charges up to $13,000 a year in tuition.
Charter schools are independently run but survive on taxpayer funds, provided through the local district on a per pupil basis. Hatikvah would get about $1.3 million a year. There is no charge for students to attend a charter school.
If allowed by the state Department of Education to open, Hatikvah International Academy Charter School could be the first charter in New Jersey with a mission statement centered on a foreign country. Founders say it would seek to “build partnerships for future cultural and economic opportunities” with Israel.
The school would provide “in-depth study of Hebrew and Hebrew culture,” and would open in fall 2010 with 108 students from kindergarten through third grade, according to its application.
“We anticipate that Hebrew language will be taught every day, and will be incorporated in related settings, such as teaching social studies units which relate to Hebrew culture in Hebrew,” Yair Nezaria, one of the eight founders, wrote in an e-mail.
Other subjects, such as math, science and English, would be taught in English, Nezaria said.
The application for the school stressed it would abide by requirements separating church and state. The school would observe the same holidays as local public schools, according its Web site, and the cafeteria would not serve kosher food, although students would not be discouraged from bringing kosher food to school, said co-founder Michelle Ann Wilson.
Liti Haramaty, a woman born in Israel whose two children attend public schools, signed a petition to oppose the new school. “I don’t think it’s fair,” she said. “If people want a specific education for their kids, they should be willing to pay for it.”
Wilson, meanwhile, rejected the notion Hatikvah would be a substitute for the Solomon Schechter Day School in East Brunswick, a private religious school with 137 K-8 students.
“It’s not a Jewish school,” she said. “We’re not teaching any religion.”
By Karen Keller
Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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