Board of Ed challenges Hebrew charter school

Board of Ed challenges Hebrew charter school

Lawsuit says Hatikvah falls short of state’s enrollment policies

The founder of the state’s first Hebrew-language charter school vowed that it would open as scheduled despite a suit filed by the East Brunswick Board of Education.

The suit, filed on Aug. 11, asks a state appellate court to stay the charter of the Hatikvah International Academy Charter School, saying the school has insufficient enrollment to open in the fall.

In a press release, the East Brunswick board noted that by state law a charter school must have enrolled at least 90 percent of the school’s approved maximum enrollment to receive a green light. It contends that Hatikvah, whose maximum enrollment is 108, did not have the required 97 students, according to the school board’s records.

Hatikvah founder and board member Yair Nezaria said as of June 30, the school had not only met but exceeded the enrollment requirement “and the district knows that.” Nezaria called the legal action “an attempt to sabotage the school” and said it “demonstrated a profound lack of official understanding.”

He acknowledged enrollment has fluctuated as people pulled out for various reasons, causing a dip in July. But new applicants have taken most of those spots despite what he called the district’s attempts to discourage students by not issuing requested transfer cards.

“It’s not really legal,” said Nezaria. “They’re not really playing by the rules.”

He called the local board’s move “an 11th-hour attempt by the East Brunswick Board of Education to block excellent school choice in East Brunswick and instill fear and anxiety into Hatikvah families by infusing an air of uncertainty.”

Attempts to reach the district’s attorney, Matthew J. Giacobbe, were unsuccessful.

The go-ahead for New Jersey’s first public school offering Hebrew language immersion and culture was received from the state on July 6.

The board’s suit was filed with the Appellate Division of the state Superior Court. It seeks a stay of NJ education commissioner Bret Schundler’s grant of the charter to the school. It also filed a motion with Schundler himself asking that he stay his approval.

The school expects to begin the year Sept. 7 with grades kindergarten-two in rented space behind the Trinity Presbyterian Church on Cranbury Road.

Charter schools are considered public schools. Local districts must allocate 90 percent of the costs of educating students as well as provide transportation. East Brunswick has budgeted $1.22 million for Hatikvah. Nezaria said the school has already raised $335,000 through private donors toward making up the remaining 10 percent.

He said money allocated for the school was less than 1 percent of the total school budget.

Nezaria also refuted some area residents’ concerns that the school, despite requirements that it not teach religion, represents government funding for a sectarian purpose. Nezaria said the student population was racially and religiously diverse.

Nezaria described the school’s curriculum earlier this month in an e-mail to NJJN: “Hatikvah’s focus on World Jewish communities and Israel is aligned with the Hebrew language instruction, allowing students to understand that history, culture, and language are deeply intertwined in the particular communities studied as well as all communities around the world.”

Talking to a reporter this week he said, “Something tells me if we picked French as a second language we would not be meeting nearly as much resistance. The incredible lengths which the school board of East Brunswick will go to prevent this school is astonishing.”

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