Is Hebrew immersion racist?

Is Hebrew immersion racist?

Last week we reported more local efforts to address the crisis within the day-school system.

Everybody is talking about this new idea for a low-cost day-school track while Raphael Bachrach’s Hebrew immersion program in Englewood’s public school system has seemingly fallen by the wayside. Bachrach told The Big Lipowsky that the program has hit a snag with the school board because of questions of integration and who would likely be attracted to a Hebrew program. You can read about that in the article above. What is not in the article is the response from Englewood’s superintendent, Richard Segall, who was out of town last week.

“The immersion plan as it was evolving ran into problems because it would result in an isolated program within the school,” he wrote in an e-mail to me late last week. “The isolation would have created classes that were essentially white in a school that was predominately black and Hispanic. We are working in the district to find a solution to this that will provide the program without creating de facto segregation.”

Glenn Garrison, president of the city’s school board, said in last week’s article that the board was still very open to the idea but needed to be included in discussions. Asked about the allegations that the program would create classes with “a white character,” as Bachrach put it, Garrison said that all segments of the community would have to be served. He elaborated on the tough situation Englewood finds itself in because of the high number of black and Latino students and low number of caucasian students in the public schools, which have led the state to label the district as segregated.

“On one hand, the state Supreme Court says Dwight Morrow High School is a racially segregated school,” he said, and it needs “to do anything to integrate. On the other hand, when you see a child you shouldn’t see color. You see a child you’re there to educate. On the one hand, you have a blind eye, on the other the state says you have to integrate.”

Sheik Kamar, a member of the Englewood school board who also wrote to me last week, acknowledged that the immersion program had run into a roadblock but seemed open to further discussion.
“As per the negative feedback, I think that in all discussions and especially with any new idea, there will be more questions than answers,” Kamar wrote. “There are a few objections from members of the community, but that should not stop discussions from proceeding towards an amicable solution where all the communities of Englewood should be able to benefit. Fear of some unknowns and having to deal with integration problems at the High School has left some unpleasant feelings in some members of the community.”

Kamar called for compromise “so that we can start the process of integration and facilitate education for all our children.”

“We want a school system that reflects the larger community,” Garrison said. “Not my block, not your block, the community as a whole. Our schools need to be a community of children that reflect the larger community.”

We’ll keep a close eye on this program as it develops. Bachrach is confident that it can still be created in time for the 2009-10 school year. We’ll see what happens after the upcoming school board elections, for which his wife Nina is a candidate. He said part of her goal would be to push forward the immersion program.

Stay tuned.

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