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Officials deadlock over approval of Hebrew school in Santa Clarita Valley

February 3, 2010 | 10:52 pm
A proposal to open the first Hebrew-language charter school in the state was dealt a major blow Wednesday when school trustees in the Santa Clarita Valley deadlocked over the project’s approval.

Two members of the governing board of the William S. Hart Union High School District voted against allowing the school, while two voted in favor of the institution. A fifth board member abstained from voting.

The proposed Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences is being touted by organizers as an institution where the Hebrew language would be a key component of the curriculum, but other languages such as Latin, Greek and Arabic would also be taught. Students would pursue a rigorous college preparatory program.

But school board members raised several concerns, including whether the school would be a religious institution, targeting Jewish students,  and violate the separation of church and state. Questions were also raised over whether the appropriate number of petition signatures  were acquired; whether efforts would be made to ensure ethnic diversity; and whether special needs students would be given sufficient support to cope with the intense language-learning requirements.

“We have no objection to the concept of the academy,” said school board member Steven M. Sturgeon, who moved to deny the petition for the Hebrew language charter school Wednesday. “The question is whether or not it meets the obligation of a public charter, and the district has said no.”

Hart School District Supt. Jaime Castellanos told the board members there was “enough doubt” not to approve the school.

Leaders of the proposed school said they had gone out of their way to address the board’s concerns, working late into the night to revise the charter. They insisted that the school would be open to children of all faiths, and would have no basis in religion or ties to a synagogue. They were disheartened that board members were not fully persuaded.

“It’s a mixture of confusion, frustration and disappointment,” said Rabbi Mark Blazer of the Newhall-based Temple Beth Ami, who is leading the effort. “Our goal was to provide something special for our district. The district had the opportunity to work in partnership with us.”

That opportunity would now go Los Angeles County, Blazer said. He planned to appeal to the county’s Board of Supervisors for approval of the school.
Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mike Antonovich had sent letters to the Hart school board, confirming their support for the school.

“(It) will offer the type of interdisciplinary educational experience, especially in the language arts, that will afford students the ability to broaden their world views and understanding of a multitude of cultures,” Yaroslavsky wrote.

If approved, the school would open with 225 students in grades 7 through 9, adding 75 students each year until reaching full capacity at 450. The student body would ultimately expand to include the 12th grade.

Leaders of the school said they had received more than 350 requests for information and said a public lottery would be held to select enrollees.

--Ann M. Simmons