Even though Jewish leaders in New York last month hailed the approval of the building of a Hebrew charter school in Brooklyn, a debate is now raging over the decision, according to the AP.
Backers of the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, slated to open this fall, say it will appeal to diverse ethnic and religious groups and not just Jews. But critics here and elsewhere around the nation question whether public schools should celebrate one particular culture.
"They’re trying to transmit cultural values and identity, and that’s not the purpose of a public school," said Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition.
Last month the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit over a school in Minnesota that caters to Muslim students, and a Hebrew charter school in Florida has spurred debates over church-state separation.
New York City’s Hebrew charter school is planned for the Mill Basin neighborhood of Brooklyn, which has a substantial number of Jews, including immigrants from the former Soviet Union but is three-quarters black, Hispanic and Asian.
Sara Berman, chairwoman of the school’s board, said Jewish and non-Jewish students alike will benefit from learning Hebrew.
"We really believe that learning a second language helps children in other ways besides the language itself," she said, citing studies that suggest that language instruction stimulates brain development.