Fight erupts in Hollywood over religion in charter schools

A JTA story in July about ex-Congressman Peter Deutsch, the founder of the Ben Gamla Hebrew charter schools in Florida, has ignited a fierce debate in Hollywood, Fla., about religion and state.

From the Broward Bulldog:

Broward County School officials have expressed concern that taxpayer-funded Ben Gamla Charter Schools may be violating a state law that requires charter schools to be nonsectarian in their programs and operations.

The issue arose after a local civic activist complained last month about recent comments made by Ben Gamla’s founder, former Democratic Congressman Peter Deutsch, to [JTA] regarding the Hebrew curriculum at the Ben Gamla schools. Charlotte Greenbarg urged the School Board to re-examine whether the schools breached the Constitutional separation between government and religion.


Last week, in an email to Greenbarg, the director of the School Board’s Charter Schools Management/Support Department said an inquiry had begun.

The issue dovetails with the increasingly heated battle surrounding a proposed new Ben Gamla school in Hollywood. There’s already one in town and three more elsewhere in South Florida. Last week, more than 300 people showed up to a rancorous meeting at Hollywood’s City Hall about the proposed new school.

Greenbarg is among those leading the charge against it, even as she told the Sun Sentinel that she does not oppose the school in principle, just its location.

“It’s too many cars in a small space,” said Charlotte Greenbarg, president of the Hollywood Council of Civic Associations. “I have nothing against this school. It’s just not enough room for them.”

Is this about religion-state separation, or NIMBY syndrome? A story in Tuesday’s Sun Sentinel reports:

Greenbarg’s group supports three homeowner groups in Hollywood that are opposed to a Doral-Ben Gamla Preparatory Academy that would be built adjacent to the 600-student, K-8 Ben Gamla School. “There’s just no room for the traffic that 1,050 students would bring,” Greenbarg said. “It’s an extremely congested site.”

Uriel Heilman is JTA’s managing editor, responsible for coordinating JTA’s editorial team. He re-joined JTA in 2007 after a stint doing independent reporting in Israel and the Arab world. Before that, he served as New York bureau chief of the Jerusalem Post. An award-winning journalist, he has served as JTA’s news editor and worked as a reporter for a variety of publications in the United States and in Israel.