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Constitution Be Damned, New Rochelle School Board Takes First Steps Towards "Hebrew Immersion" Program in Fall 2010

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Constitution Be Damned, New Rochelle School Board Takes First Steps Towards "Hebrew Immersion" Program in Fall 2010

August 30, 2009 - 01:18
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1BD77F5A-D053-46DC-968F-FD22E4CF70A7.jpgProponents of creating a New Rochelle Hebrew Immersion Program came before the Board of Education on this past Tuesday to promote the idea of a Hebrew CILA Program in the New Rochelle Public Schools. The two leaders of the group, both New Rochelle residents, claimed to represent a small group of Orthodox Jews supposedly interested in offering children Hebrew language instruction. They came away with a commitment from the board to conduct a community survey to gauge support for Hebrew CILA.

The group's web site, however, reveals a very different purpose -- to help Orthodox Jewish families resolve the so-called "Jewish Day School Crisis" by offering these families a "Jewish Day School experience" without having to pay for it:

The members of this blog seek to provide their children with a quality Jewish education. We recognize that a formal Jewish education in conjunction with what is practiced at home is vital to conveying our beliefs, ethics, and knowledge to our children. However, Day School is currently the only option for providing a formal Jewish education and tuition costs are increasingly cost prohibitive for too many members of the community. Unfortunately, previous efforts to address this issue have fallen short and have not provided a viable long-term solution. We, therefore, seek to create a quality and affordable Jewish education alternative to Day School that is available to children throughout Westchester County.*

During the public comment period at the end of the meeting I pointed out to the school board that the group's web site showed that the agenda of the group was far different from what the group had presented to the board that evening. I observed that their goal of creating a "Jewish Day School Experience" in partnership with the New Rochelle public schools was not likely one that would be supported by the community if it was widely known. 48 hours later the Hebrew Immersion group blocked public access to the site so the group can continue to organize without public scrutiny. These folks are apparently unaware that Google retains "cached" views of websites in their archives. As a result, the true purpose of this group is laid bare for all to see:

We intend to create a “Hebrew Immersion” program in conjunction with New Rochelle Public Schools for grades K-5. This program would teach students to speak fluent Hebrew and learn about the culture and history of Israel while providing them with an excellent secular education at New Rochelle’s well-regarded public schools. After school, the children would be able to attend a religious program of their choice.

The "Jewish Day School Crisis" is, in large part, the result of increasing segmentation within the Jewish community and efforts over the years to create schools for every denomination and micro-demoniation of Judaism. Smaller and smaller schools has pushed costs higher and higher so that today the cost of many Jewish parochial schools exceed $50,000 a year per child, a particular financial hardship on Orthodox Jewish families who, on average, tend to have more children than other Jewish families. In response, parents have begun to organize, primarily in South Florida and the New York metropolitan area, to push for public funding of Jewish parochial school programs under the guise of offering "Hebrew Immersion" programs.

Under the proposed "New Rochelle Hebrew Immersion Program", the costs of all academic, language and cultural education would be be borne by New Rochelle tax payers. Hebrew language textbooks and instructional material, not readily available in the United States, would most likely be imported from Israel, home to about 97% of the worlds 7.2 million Hebrew language speakers. It was not clear where qualified Hebrew-speaking teachers would be found or how they could be added to the district's payroll in the midst of a hiring freeze. In either case, the study of Hebrew beyond Jews and students of Judaism and Israel is so limited (archaeologists, linguists, and theologians) that a Hebrew Immersion program amounts to little more than carving out a tax-payer funded Jewish parochial school within the New Rochelle public school.

Even had it occurred to them to be a bit more skeptical, those attending the recent school board meeting would have been hard-pressed to discern any of this hidden agenda during the presentation on Hebrew Immersion. Proponents, along with their supporters within the district, repeatedly and flagrantly misrepresented the group's intentions as simply parents wishing to expose their children to a foreign language. The web site, however, makes clear that the group is interested in either a Hebrew charter school or a Hebrew CILA program. Their first choice is to have Hebrew CILA program in which New Rochelle would offer both Hebrew language classes and course content instruction in Hebrew during the normal school day and then offer -- quoting from their parent survey -- "after-school privately funded modern orthodox 'limudei kodesh' instructional program" to the Hebrew CILA Students.

The two leaders of the Hebrew Immersion program -- David Kirshenbaum and Mike Hunter (sic) were introduced by board member David Lacher who informed the board that he and members of the school administration, including Dr. Korostoff and Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak, had been meeting with the two men since last spring. What the board members were told was that the idea was to offer a program similar to the CILA Program in Italian offered at the Jefferson school. Dr. Korostoff and David Lacher did most of the talking initially and then the two proponents of the Hebrew version program answered questions.

Dr. Korostoff told the board that based on previous meetings things were now at the stage where he was seeking the board's approval to commission a community survey to gauge the level of support for a Hebrew CILA program in New Rochelle. He then proceeded to describe the requirements for creating a Hebrew CILA program. Korostoff told the board that a Hebrew CILA program would have to offer Hebrew language instruction as well as content instruction in Hebrew which would entail finding teachers fluent in Hebrew as well as textbooks and other instructional materials to support the New York State curriculum. He said such a program could only focus on language and culture and that there could be no religious component. Korostoff also said the program would have to meet the District's diversity requirements. Such a program would also entail capacity considerations because adding a districtwide program would mean adding a new "strand" of classes in a particular building. Korostoff said that if these requirements could not be met it would still be possible to offer Hebrew language instruction for one class per day as is done currently for other non-CILA languages. Korostoff mentioned September 2010 as a possible start date if a sufficient number of children to fill a kindergarten class could be found in keeping with the aforementioned requirements.

The response of the school board ranged from generally supportive to euphoric. Mary Jane Reddington was the most enthusiastic board member, reflexively pronouncing a Hebrew CILA program to be a "great idea" because, as she put it, she supports any foreign language program. Apparently that includes even foreign language programs that are intended to serve as a trojan horse to dupe taxpayers into funding a program that is likely unconstitutional and would not likely have much support if its true purpose were widely known. At one point Reddington became so excited that she she literally jumped out of her chair in order to talk further with the two men while Board President Sara Richmond sought to proceed with the meeting.

When a board member raised the "diversity" issue, Kirshenbaum proudly pointed out that a Hebrew Immersion school in Brooklyn was "only 60% Orthodox". Apparently unaware that New Rochelle schools are only about 30% white and predominantly Christian, Kirshenbaum's idea of diversity amounts to having Orthodox, Hasidic, Reform and Conservative Jews all in the same class. The web site makes a similar point, proudly declaring that the after-school modern orthodox 'limudei kodesh' instructional program would be open to "non-Orthodox" students by which he means Jews who are not Orthodox. In a school district that is more than two-thirds Latino and Black, African-American it seems unlikely that a class of 100% Jewish kids of different denominations is what Dr. Korostoff meant by meeting the district's "diversity" requirements.

Jeff Hastie was a bit more sanguine about the whole thing, asking the board first step back and consider articulating a process through which any new language would be added. He asked why a Hebrew would take precedence over another foreign language such as Mandarin. There are over 1 billion Mandarin speakers compared to 7 million Hebrew speakers.

The answer about one "Hebrew Immersion" school in Brooklyn being "only 60% Orthodox" elicited a disapproving snort from Cindy Babcock-Deutsch who muttered something about how the Brooklyn school was a charter school.

The remainder of the discussion consisted of assurances by Kirshenbaum and Hunter that they understood the need for a Hebrew CILA program to attract a diverse student population and to exclude any religious component from the program, claims belied by the mission described on their web site. These two topics -- diversity and the religious component -- were raised many times in several different ways and each time Kirshenbaum and Hunter provided their assurances that they understood the boards concern and shared them completely. Even a cursory examination of the group's web site shows the entire discussion to have been a complete fraud.

Whatever board members may think, the leaders of this effort are clearly under the impression they already have support from the board to launch a Hebrew CILA program in September 2010 and they are communicating this to their supporters. The web site says flat out that they have been told that if they can find 20 children to enroll for a Kindergarten Hebrew CILA class the program will proceed. A recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Erica Schacter Schwartz, a columnist for the Jewish Week, reflects the groups growing confidence that their goals will be achieved within the next year:

This mix of charter and after-school tutorial is the model that presents a real challenge to private, religiously focused day schools. One variation on the model may soon be attempted in Englewood, N.J., where a coalition of parents has proposed a program that would inject Hebrew-language instruction into the public-school system and offer supplementary religious education to families who are interested.

"Most of our core group," explains Raphael Bachrach, the founder of this program, known as Englewood Hebrew, is determined to make the after-school Jewish studies program "on par with day-school education. The parents feel that even though this is not a yeshiva, they want it to be every bit as serious." In New Rochelle, N.Y., too, plans are under way to create a Hebrew-immersion program in the existing elementary-school system, with an after-school religious studies session for those interested.

It is also worth noting that the group's online survey asks respondents to indicate their current school district if they are not in the New Rochelle school district. Also, the comments section and forum on the now-closed site included discussions of out-of-district parents placing their kids in New Rochelle schools to take advantage of a Hebrew CILA program. Ironically, it was David Lacher who noted the existing problems with District's current "host family" loophole. At $50,000 per child that is a pretty big motivation for a family to play fast and loose with the residency requirements to enroll in a Hebrew CILA program so get ready to see the trickle become a flood if this program is approved.

There are 17 Comments

Anyone in their right mind would avoid this topic. An Ani-Semitic label looms for anyone who is not Jewish that opposes it. It is a scar that can never be removed. Run, and don't look back!

Robert Cox's picture

But at the same time that sort of ad hominem attack would just serve to highlight the fact that proponents of "Hebrew Immersion" cannot make a legitimate argument supporting such a program. So, if you see the discussion go down that road you know they are losing the argument and becoming desperate.

The real issue here is the one Jeff Hastie raised -- how does New Rochelle go about determining how to add any new language program?

Dr. Korostoff listed some of the criteria - demand, diversity, access to teaching materials in line with NYS curriculum, etc.

There ought to be some criteria bases on usefulness and helping students later find jobs. There is already high demand for graduates who can speak some Asuan languages -- Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese. The government is looking for Arabic speakers. Some thought should be given to global population of speakers of a given language which might then suggest adding Hindi or Russian.

That a handful of parents want to create a poor man's version of a Jewish parochial school within a public school does not strike me as a useful criteria. I am sure I can find 50 people (25 families) that would like to see a Greek CILA or Albanian CILA or Urdu CILA program in New Rochelle.

Regardless, whatever disagreement exists in New Rochelle I would bet most people are with me in believing that public schools cannot be used to domicile religious education under the guise of offering language and "cultural" instruction. Hebrew is the liturgical language of Judaism so the "culture" they talk about is the Jewish religion. Hebrew is also an official language in Israel, a Jewish state, so "culture" can also mean Israeli culture which is largely though not exclusively Jewish culture.

If this was a group of parents proposing to add Hebrew language classes to the schools alongside German, Latin, Mandarin and Japanese that would one thing but as their website makes clear their effort is entirely about Judaism, and not just Judaism but a specific denomination of Judaism -- Modern Orthodox. And deleting or password-protecting a website is not going to change that.

This idea is DOA.

Where students can learn Arabic and the history of the Koran (in it's non religious context) and the Islamic history. I don't see any problems with that either.

Please cox, everyone knows your site is a joke. Nobody is around! Enough of your lies already. You'll be finished soon, just like your compadre sanchez! Funny how the city is making progress after that piece a trash is gone!

Considering the state of our economics in trade it would serve our population of kids in a much more realistic fashion to make the next language/ culture CILA program to be in Chinese . This would let any child interested to be armed with a far stronger skillset to further their chance at success in a world where increasing numbers of employees will need to interact with Chinese business concerns . How much business is conducted in China compared to Israel ? Are we preparing children to meet the world prepared with skillsets or are we taking over the WANTS of a very narrowly defined culture who will bring a favorable voting block to the board ? Wake up people . Not going forward with this perverted notion of what school should provide has nothing to do with discrimination but everything to do with back room politics . Why do you think they are running scared and shutting down their website to anyone who doesn't agree . Just more evidence of the backroom , hidden agenda of the school board's operations . This project has no legs of it's own and needs coopting and manipulation to move forward . Shame Shame Shame .

Does anyone know the cost of starting a new CILA and how that impacts the school budget? It seems like it would mean hiring a new set of teachers for each grade level as the first set of students goes through the system. Also, what about when students drop out of the CILA programs? Do they merge classes from different schools?

The proponets of this plan, if they do not get what what they want, wil say they were denied by our school boardand announce their campaign to run for election to the school board. Once on that board be prepared for cuts to the budget (or at least proposals to cut the budget) not even the most fiscally conservative New Rochellena would approve. Sports will go, after school activities of any kind will be cut and then the cuts to "day to day core programs" will be focused on until NR is no longer a worthy district. It may take time but it will happen. It has happened on Long Island and in Rockland where a specific group takes control of a school board and makes ridiculous cuts so they do not have to pay any taxes. Most of the time their children attend private school so this is a way of not paying twice for education.

IF NOTHING ELSE THIS IS EVIDENCE THAT WE SHOULD GO TO DISTRICTS IN THE SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS. THAT WAY NO ONE CAN GAIN AN OUTRIGHT MAJORITY WITHOUT WINNING ALL THE DISTRICTS.

Do not let this "immersion/take over happen in New Rochelle". If you want to teach Hebrew as a language program in a regular class I can understand that but do Jewish Kids learn Hebrew from the Rabai to read the Torah at Bar Mitzvah? Why immerge?

We as a city cannot lose our grip. DO NOT DO IT. You can say I am writing this annonomoulsy for now but if this issue takes hold I will step forward.

Robert Cox's picture

The Hebrew Immersion group is basing a lot of their discussion on two schools, one in Brooklyn and one in Florida, that are charter schools. I would say it is far more likely that they would push for a Charter School rather than organize some sort of election campaign. The board has always seemed quite confident that a Charter School could never happen in New Rochelle so I do not think they take this threat too seriously but I do agree with you that this may be an attempt by the Orthodox community to fall on their sword then galvanize support by portraying themselves as victims.

To me the whole idea is ludicrous. Can you imagine there would really be much interest from these folks in a Hebrew CILA program that was similar to the Italian CILA program at Jefferson as they claimed last Tuesday. That would mean a program that is majority black and latino and housed in a South End school. Even if there was strong demand from minority families to have their children educated in Hebrew, the North End Orthodox families would not even consider sending their kids to school at Columbus, Jefferson or Trinity. Some of the people on their web site were warning of the dangers of exposing their children to gentiles so these folks are not what I consider to be "multiculturalists" that would be excited about a classroom that is predominantly black and latino.

I think you can chalk this up to an apparent lack of familiarity with the New Rochelle school system. I suspect their enthusiasm would cool if they actually spent time at any of the South End schools.

"I think you can chalk this up to an apparent lack of familiarity with the New Rochelle school system. I suspect their enthusiasm would cool if they actually spent time at any of the South End schools."

Funny but true. A lack of anything outside their neighborhood. Diversity is not a strong suit here for the Orthodox.

Next will be no sports on Saturday because it is unfair.

Anyone involved in YBNR will tell you . Saturday IS verboten when it comes to any type of organization or practice. See what kind of response you get if you try to claim Sunday as your own Sabbath . If you go ahead and dare to have a practice on a Sat , you will be crucified for mistreating the players . It's sad .

All CILA programs should be eliminated at once. In light of the on-going fiscal crisis, New Rochelle School District cannot afford to provide certain students with a benefit paid by all taxpayers. Is a any CILA program constitutional if it provides only some students with a benefit? Every student is entitled to the same education.

Robert Cox's picture

Legally, every child is entitled to a Free and appropriate education not the SAME. Education but I understand your point. Why do some kids "win" lotteries to get extra stuff that other kids do not get. And do these extras amount to anything? The district says that CILA gets "excellent results" but has, so far, declined to provide any data which supports this claim.

Maybe the idea is just to divide and conquer, creating various perks the district can hold over people's heads.

The school district will say whatever it takes to get more and more money from taxpayers, particularly the families with school age children who benefit and do not suffer from the outrage taxes paid by citizens. They buy into the fact that more means better and this is just not true. Most of these programs are costly with no proven results. Honor and AP students at NRHS are not graduates of these lottery programs. This latest idea is unconstitutional and will be challenged by the many cultures who have been and continue to be ignored in the NR curriculum.

Then why not get rid of the magnet programs too?

If this is to be an all inclusive program to include children of Jewish and non Jewish faiths (by lottery of course similar to the other CILA programs) strickly for the purpose of learning the Hebrew language then it's fine by me.

But once you start imposing religous beliefs or exclude children of non Jewish faiths and to have the tax payers foot the bill, I'm against it.

this is plain and simple a poor idea. there was a time when schools; mostly, but not exclusively universitities, offered what they labeled the classic languages --- greek, hebrew, latin -- and not surprisingly, they were more often than not in support of relgious, biblical, or at the least, philosophical courses. Given changes in society, impact of religious and secular studies, etc... we see where a so-called "classical education" is pretty much back where it belongs --- harvard divinity school, for one.

this particular posting has hit a nerve and people seem to be tap dancing around the central points at hand. seems like bob cox has a comment on practically every submission and likely has screened others for inclusion. that is fine, especially if they are prejorative.

put as simply as possible, this is totally a way to obtain favor and funding for a restricted population of students and should be handled in more traditional ways, such as release time, special religious studies outside of the district's span of control, and so forth. being an anti-semite is totally at odds with the point of the proposal. what is relevant are (1) separation of church and state, (2) other priorities in a district that is not doing as well as a level-headed, think pocketed tax payer should demand, and of course, (3) other potential language programs that speak to our society and to the global economy. Some of these have already been mentioned.

this should not have even been an agenda item.

warren gross

Robert Cox's picture

Warren wrote: "seems like bob cox has a comment on practically every submission and likely has screened others for inclusion. that is fine, especially if they are prejorative."

I only block comments that are from anonymous, unregistered visitors where they are using bad language or otherwise being disruptive or troll-like. I think I blocked one comment from this thread and it was not because it was arguing the contra-position.

I think the vast majority of residents can see right away that this is a bad idea. Your point is really my point -- why did the board even ENTERTAIN such a bad idea. They obviously did not do their homework. Now that I have highlighted what these folks have said about their own efforts on their own web site I seriously doubt the board will have them back.

More to the point, the board has to function as a real board. A good Board of Ed would serve to set overall strategy, directly hire for key positions, serve as a sounding board for the administration and (IMPORTANT) ask tough questions of those who would come before it.

Because the board does NOT ask tough questions of people who come before if, most folks realize they can say whatever they want and know they will not be found out if they are making misrepresentations. This is why you see various department heads and principals making presentations that replete with highly questionable claims including suspect data and analysis. They know they can get away with anything and then be applauded for their presentation by the likes of Cindy Babcock-Deutsch and Mary Jane Reddington who seem to believe their job is to make school administrators feel good about themselves no matter how inane their remarks before the board.

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