Broward News

Hollywood Board to Review if Ben Gamla Charter School Violates Separation of Church and State

Broward officials have called for a review of whether the Jewish-oriented Ben Gamla charter school violates the separation of church and state.

After an article that appeared in the Israeli newspaper, The Times of Israel, written by JTA, a Jewish wire service, about Ben Gamla founder, former Democratic Congressman Peter Deutsch, appeared in their July 21 issue, Hollywood civic activist Charlotte Greenbarg contacted Broward board members.

And now, a district official has asked for a review of the matter, reports Broward Bulldog's William Gjebre.

The issue was stirred because is has proposed to build a 1,050-student middle and senior high school on Van Buren Street. The school needs a special exemption from Hollywood to construct the school, and must get approval from the School Board.

But Greenbarg says that Deutsch is all about using public funding to push a "Jewish identity building" agenda.

From the Miami Herald:

In her Aug. 10 email, Greenbarg cited this line from the article: "Deutsch is unabashed about using public money to support what he describes as Jewish identity building. Out of Ben Gamla's collective budget of $10 million a year, Deutsch says 80 percent serves Jewish communal purposes."

"This needs to be re-examined quickly," Greenbarg said.

As public schools, charter schools are not allowed to promote or provide any kind of religious education, or influence. A school like Ben Gamia will call itself a "Hebrew charter school," as a way to follow that rule, but also keep its Jewish roots.

But, the problem is, according to The Times of Israel article, Deutsch is all about the religion:

"The Ben Gamla charter schools are Deutsch's effort to change that. [Deutsch] wants to give Jewish kids who otherwise would attend public school an opportunity to be in a Jewish environment and develop a Jewish identify -- at taxpayer expense."

Deutsh responded to the article. "The school complies with every aspect of separation of church and state," he said. "The school is obsessive with compliance with separation of church and state. The process is 100 percent transparent."

Deutsh also says that the School Board vetted the issue in 2007 before approving Ben Gamla for a kindergarten-through-eighth grade charter school located at 2620 Hollywood Blvd., off City Hall Circle.

Ben Gamia has other "Hebrew language" charter schools around South Florida. The one in Boynton Beach is located on the second floor of a synagogue, while the principal of the Ben Gamla high school in Plantation, is an Orthodox rabbi.

According to the Israeli newspaper article, about 85 percent of Ben Gamia students are Jewish.

But the main issue seems to be the school's request for more public funding while the article says its founder is hard pressed to give the schools a more religious push.

That, Greenbarg says, is a clear violation of the separation of church and state.

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph