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Taxpayer-funded Hebrew-language charter school to resume classes

The United States' first taxpayer-funded Hebrew-language charter school can start a new academical year.

The Ben Gamla Charter School in Florida said it would begin teaching Hebrew again Monday, more than three weeks after Broward County schools Superintendent James Notter ordered the classes stopped to allow further review of the curriculum.

The school can teach about the Jewish faith, but cannot advocate it.

School board members said close monitoring of the school is still necessary. Notter said the school district would work with Ben Gamla to create training programs for both teachers at the charter and board members to ensure the separation of church and state. Lesson plans are to be submitted monthly for district review.

It was the fourth time Ben Gamla had its curriculum go before the board.

"We have asked this charter school to do a lot of different things," said board chair Beverly Gallagher. "As far as I can see, they have done everything that we have asked them."

Ben Gamla has generated controversy since it was proposed. Its roughly 400 students in kindergarten through eighth grades follow state curriculum, but also are to take a Hebrew language course. One of their core subjects - math or physical education, for example - is to be taught bilingually as well.

The school only taught Hebrew for three days before classes were stopped.

Ben Gamla founder Peter Deutsch, a former Democratic congressman, said he was gratified board members had become more comfortable with his school's concept, because advocating religion had never been part of its plans. "We never considered crossing that line," he said.

Deutsch plans to add additional Ben Gamla locations in South Florida and in New York and Los Angeles. The school takes its name from a Jewish high priest.

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