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First Hebrew-language charter school gets approval in Santa Clarita Valley

March 19, 2010 |  8:37 am

Following months of debate, plans to create the first Hebrew-language charter school in California got the go-ahead this week, after modifications to the charter helped to allay concerns that the institution would violate separation of church and state.
On Wednesday, trustees for the William S. Hart Union High School District unanimously approved the establishment of the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences, which will open this fall in the Santa Clarita Valley. One board member recused herself from voting.

“I am elated and relieved,” said Rabbi Mark Blazer, one of the school’s principal organizers. “This is an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our children.”

At a second public hearing about the school in February, school board members had deadlocked over whether to approve the school’s charter. One of their main concerns was that the school would be a religious academy, since the required study of the Hebrew language — typically associated with Jewish culture — would dominate the syllabus.

The school’s charter had originally stated that it would be compulsory for students to study Hebrew for a minimum of four years. Study of a second language would be required for two years.

On Thursday, Blazer explained that studying Hebrew would no longer be compulsory. Students would be allowed to choose to take Hebrew, Arabic or Spanish for four years.  They would also have the option to study another language after that, Blazer said.

“It was never an issue for me that Hebrew be mandatory; it was for our funders,” the rabbi added. He said it was unclear whether the omission of Hebrew as a study requirement would affect the school’s funding.

The school will open with 225 students in grades seven through nine, adding 75 students each year until reaching full capacity at 450. The student body ultimately will expand to include the 12th grade, according to organizers.

Blazer emphasized that children of all religious and ethnic backgrounds would be welcome to enroll, and no religious courses would be offered.

 “The Hebrew language is rich with culture and history,” Blazer said in written comments.  “But this is definitely not a Jewish school.”

--Ann M. Simmons

Learn more about the enrollment and performance of local schools in the Times' California Schools Guide.