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Making room for religion

A new charter school seeks to open in Brooklyn and have students learn religion in the same building – but it doesn’t matter which religion, according to the school’s leaders.

“If we could find a madrasah, a Hebrew school, a fitness center, anything that wants to rent our space and give us money, we are going to entertain that,” Morris Matalon, a member of the Brooklyn Preparatory Charter School’s board of directors, said at a meeting last week to gain support from community residents.

Matalon’s statement differs from how Brooklyn Prep was initially advertised.

An e−mail circulated by Brooklyn Prep noted that when the official school day ends, an independent Talmud Torah organization would lead an after−school program teaching Judaism. The organization would charge annual tuition of $3,000 per student.

The school targeted parents of children in yeshivas, saying, “For those parents that are unhappy with the secular education that their children are receiving or feel that their children are not getting the proper academic skills necessary to succeed in the global 21st century, the charter school option is a viable one. For those parents that feel that the dual curriculum offered by our yeshivas stresses too heavily on religious training rather than on secular studies, a charter school may be a desired alternative.”

Several parents at the meeting, held at Rasputin Restaurant and Cabaret, 2670 Coney Island Avenue, expressed interest in abandoning yeshivas for Brooklyn Prep, which will submit its application for a 2010 opening in the coming weeks.

Dahlia Masri, who attended the meeting with her husband, said she is interested in Brooklyn Prep “as an alternative to paying tuition.”

A mother who identified herself as Margaret appreciated the possibility of sending her young daughter to a school with a largely Jewish student body.

“I would like her to get the Hebrew and feel a sense of belonging,” she said.

Charter schools are public schools that must abide by separation of church and state. By law, Brooklyn Prep could have no affiliation with any religious after−school program.

“We cannot teach religion. It’s against the law,” Matalon acknowledged.

He said Brooklyn Prep wants to rent its building to an after−school program for one reason – money.

Matalon said charter schools receive about $12,000 per student each year. With Brooklyn Prep hoping for 100 students its first year, the school would not have enough money to cover the expenses of renting a building and paying for utilities, he said.

The hope is that the after−school program could subsidize those costs.

“We have not been able to determine if a student can be educated for less than $18,000 a year,” Matalon said.

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