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March 23, 2011

Hebrew charter school rejected; Could be too Jewish, district says

http://www.jewishjournal.com/community/article/hebrew_charter_school_rejected_could_be_too_jewish_district_says_20110323

On March 15, the Saugus Union School District became the fourth Los Angeles-area school district to reject a Hebrew language charter school application in the past six months.

All four charter petitions were submitted by the backers of the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences, a seven month-old charter school in Santa Clarita serving 200 students in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades.

Einstein was the subject of a Jewish Journal cover story in August, and the school’s backers hope to open elementary schools this year in Santa Clarita and Ventura County. The curricula at these schools will include intensive study of the Hebrew language.

An e-mail sent to the proposed Santa Clarita elementary school’s prospective parents and supporters said that the most recent rejection had been expected, and reassured them that the school is expected to open in time for their planned August 2011 start date.

Unlike earlier rejections of Einstein-backed charters by the Newhall, Los Angeles Unified and Ventura Unified school districts, the Saugus district’s report focused a great deal on the Jewishness of such a school as a possible obstacle to its approval.

The Saugus report quoted at length from the Jewish Journal story and cited overlap among the leadership of the proposed charter school, a temple in Santa Clarita and a Jewish community center project. (All three are led by Rabbi Mark Blazer.) The Saugus report ultimately expressed concern about “whether the proposed charter school would be and remain nonsectarian.”

State funding is awarded to charter schools and school districts on a per-pupil basis. Charter school supporters say school districts are inclined to reject applications to start competing schools, which can draw students away from traditional public schools.

With the popularity of charter schools growing and the budgets of school districts tightening, rejections by districts of initial charter applications are becoming more common in California.

In Los Angeles County, where 27 new charter schools opened in fall 2010, the growth of charter applications rejected by school districts can be seen in the corresponding rise in appeals being brought to the county. “We are seeing double the number of county appeals this year as compared to the same time last year,” Vicky Waters, director of media relations for the California Charter Schools Association, said.

Einstein Elementary’s backers are considering an appeal to the county on behalf of their Santa Clarita charter application. Ventura Unified, which rejected an application for the other Einstein-backed elementary charter school in November 2010, is set to consider an appeal on March 28.

Meanwhile, Einstein in Santa Clarita, which has been up and running since August 2010, has already received 150 applications for the 75 spaces in its incoming seventh grade for the 2011-12 school year. The lottery to decide which students will be admitted is set to take place on March 31.

— Jonah Lowenfeld, Staff Writer

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