Proposed Hebrew-language school dealt a setback

A proposal to open the first Hebrew-language charter school in the state was handed a major setback when school trustees in the Santa Clarita Valley deadlocked over the project’s approval -- blocking its progress.

Several trustees for the William S. Hart Union High School District said they worried that the school would be a religious academy and might lack ethnic diversity.

Hebrew-language charter school: A Feb. 5 article in LATExtra about a proposal to establish a Hebrew-language charter school in the Santa Clarita Valley stated that supporters would appeal to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to win approval for the school after the governing board of the William S. Hart Union High School District deadlocked over the initial petition. The Board of Supervisors does not hear such appeals. The school’s leaders will appeal to the Los Angeles County Board of Education. —

Supporters of the proposed Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences said they would appeal to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Two supervisors -- Zev Yaroslavsky and Mike Antonovich -- have indicated their support for the charter school.

The proposed charter is being touted by organizers as an institution where Hebrew 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 voiced concern that the school would be a religious institution, targeting Jewish students, and possibly violating separation of church and state. Trustees said the Hebrew language, typically associated with the Jewish culture, would dominate the syllabus. Leaders of the proposed school confirmed 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.

Questions also were raised over whether the appropriate number of petition signatures were acquired for the proposed school, whether efforts would be made to ensure ethnic diversity and whether special-needs students would be given sufficient support to cope with the language-learning program.

Leaders of the proposed school insisted that it would be open to children of all faiths, and would have no basis in religion or ties to a synagogue.

Rabbi Mark Blazer of the Newhall-based Temple Beth Ami, who is leading the charter school effort, said he was disheartened with the vote.

“It’s a mixture of confusion, frustration and disappointment,” Blazer said. “Our goal was to provide something special for our district. The district had the opportunity to work in partnership with us.”

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

School leaders said they had received more than 350 requests for information.

A few supporters, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, appealed to the board to approve the school. They commended the proposed small class sizes, the college preparation program and the opportunity for students to learn languages relevant to current world affairs.

But some voiced concern that allowing another charter school -- the Santa Clarita Valley has at least two -- would take away resources from regular public schools. And others suggested that the proposed school should be a private facility, similar to several local parochial schools, rather than be funded by taxpayers.

“It makes me wonder why one faith should be favored over another,” said one speaker, adding that she pays for her children to attend a private Christian academy.

A public lottery would be held to select enrollees, the school’s organizers said.