Broward County School Board is "Keeping Things Kosher" at Ben Gamla Charter School

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
September 12, 2007 12:00 am

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HOLLYWOOD, FL – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida praises the Broward County School Board for taking the appropriate steps to ensure adequate oversight for the new school, Ben Gamla Charter School in Hollywood, FL. Dubbed “America’s First English-Hebrew Charter School,” Ben Gamla has been in the hot seat due to concerns about potential First Amendment violations regarding the curriculum, which includes Hebrew language.

Initial reports pointed out that the school’s leaders are Jewish and plans to serve kosher food to students among other non-substantive issues, but these are not the issues the ACLU warned about. Serious concerns were raised over whether the school would be sponsoring religion, breaching the constitutional line between church and state.

“Teaching Hebrew, serving kosher foods or learning about religion are not issues with which the ACLU is concerned,” said Howard Simon, ACLU of Florida Executive Director. “The line is drawn when religion is taught in a manner intended to preach to students on the State’s dime. It’s not enough for them to approve the curriculum and then forget about it – there needs to be a system in place to ensure that the school doesn’t violate the Constitution and it looks like the district has done just that.”

Though charter schools are run by private agencies, they are funded with taxpayer money and therefore are subject to the same regulations as public schools.

Teaching Hebrew as a language is no different from a school offering Italian, Spanish or German – but since these are unchartered waters it is imperative that things are done right the first time, the ACLU said. The School Board is doing its due diligence now – but the oversight can’t stop with approval of the curriculum. The school will be required to “submit monthly lesson plans to the district for approval” and district and school officials will “undergo training in religious studies to understand the difference between teaching about religion and teaching in a way that promotes religion.”

“The School District has a responsibility to ensure that Ben Gamla-and all Charter Schools-receive continual and adequate oversight,” said Bill Schoolman, ACLU of Florida Broward Chapter Chair. “They are publicly funded schools and are accountable to the public. Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.”

The ACLU has attended school board meetings and submitted letters to the editor urging the District to properly enforce the law and create sufficient oversight for Ben Gamla and other charter schools. One such letter, published in The Miami Herald, can be viewed here:

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