(JTA) — A Florida school board is reviewing whether the Ben Gamla Hebrew charter school network violates the law by mixing religion with public schooling.
The review was prompted by a JTA story published July 17 in which Ben Gamla founder Peter Deutsch described the publicly funded charter schools as builders of Jewish identity.
The chairwoman of the Broward County school board, Laurie Rich Levinson, told the Broward Bulldog in a story picked up by the Miami Herald that her office sent the JTA article to the district’s Charter School Department for “review and response” after receiving a complaint on Aug. 10 from a civic activist in the area, Charlotte Greenbarg of Hollywood.
In interviews with JTA, Deutsch said he believes that of Ben Gamla’s collective annual budget of $10 million, approximately 80 percent serves Jewish communal purposes.
“To me, it is literally the best leverage that I’m aware of in Jewish communal stuff in the history of the Jewish people,” Deutsch told JTA. “Jews need to be supportive of this endeavor.”
Deutsch also said it was his own opinion and that the four Ben Gamla schools in South Florida, which collectively have about 1,700 students, do not teach religion.
“The school complies with every aspect of separation of church and state,” Deutsch told the Herald. “The school is obsessive with compliance with separation of church and state. The process is 100 percent transparent.”