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Founder of Hebrew Charter School Vows to Fight Closure

March 20, 2013 By:
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Solomon Charter School Hebrew teacher Yael Sandler with student Joseph Fugarino

The founder of a state-fund­ed charter school in Philadelphia that teaches Hebrew, keeps kosh­­er and closes early on Fridays has vowed to fight state efforts to shut down the institution.

Stephen Crane, who serves as chairman of the Solomon Charter School, said he intends to “fight back for our school and the children we serve.”

Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis recently has started proceedings to revoke the charter of the school, which opened in September as a cyber school focusing on Hebrew and Chinese language and culture.

Tomalis said in a news release that Solomon has violated its charter by delivering the bulk of its content in the classroom, rather than via the web. It had been approved to operate as a cyber school.

In 2010, when Crane first attempted to open a Hebrew-language charter school in the area, the idea created some buzz within the Jewish community. There’s been a growing movement nationally to use existing charter school laws to create Hebrew-language charter schools, partially as a way to serve Jewish families.

But when Solomon finally opened this year, it generated few ripples in Jewish circles. The 7th-10th grade school does not currently have any Jewish students enrolled, according to Sandra Epstein, the school’s chief academic officer. She declined to comment for this story.

According to Fernando Gallard, spokesman for the School District of Philadelphia, the state had billed the district for $1.03 million to pay students’ tuition as it does for other cyber schools. Gallard said the school had a total of 138 students.

Last month, school officials told the Jewish Exponent it had 150 students. The state’s findings were based on three separate site visits.

“Solomon officials have consistently demonstrated their inability to adhere to the school’s governing charter and operate within the confines of the Charter School Law,” Tomalis said in a statement. “The Public School Code is explicit — cyber charter schools are to offer a significant portion of their curriculum” via the web.

State officials are seeking an expedited hearing to determine whether or not the school will close, according to Tim Eller, spokesman for the Department of Education. 

Perhaps in a sign of confidence that the hearing will result in the school’s closing, El­ler wrote in an email that “the school has the option of surrendering its charter effective at the end of the 2012-13 school year, which would eliminate the need to proceed with the hearing proces.” 

Although Crane would not go into details, he made clear that he would not willingly surrender the charter.

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