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Controversial Charter School Remains Open

September 25, 2013 By:
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This 2012 flyer, displayed in the window of the Solomon Charter School, advertised Hebrew and Chinese language instruction. Photo by Greg Bezanis

Back in March, Pennsyl­vania Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis announced his intention to shut down the Solo­mon Charter School, a publicly funded cyber-school in Philadelphia’s Chinatown section that teaches both Hebrew and Chinese, offers kosher food — and currently has no Jewish students.

Tomalis, who stepped down in August, said that Solomon was in violation of its state charter by delivering the bulk of its content in the classroom rather than via the web. It had been approved to run as a cyber-school, to be overseen by the state.

But when the Philadelphia school district opened on Sept. 9, the Solomom school opened for its second academic year and, ­according to its website, actually expanded to a K-11 facility.

It is not clear how school officials managed to convince the state to allow the institution to remain open. Jesse Klapholz, Solomon’s executive director, said school officials wouldn’t comment for this story. Several calls and emails to the state’s education office were not returned.

Saundra Epstein, Solomon’s former chief academic officer, said that with the help of attorneys, it was successfully argued earlier this year that the school was doing exactly what it said it would do when the state initially approved its charter last year. She had long argued that a blended cyber/in-person approach to education represented a cutting-edge model.

Epstein, who had been key in setting up the academic program at the experimental school, said the board of directors asked her to resign and she is no long­er involved.

When founder and CEO Steve Crane first began drumming up support for a Hebrew charter school in Philadelphia, he said at the time that he hoped it would appeal to Jewish families. But, as of February of this year, there were no Jewish students enrolled.

According to its website, the school is still committed to its Hebrew-language program.

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