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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Charter School Won’t Give Up

Teaneck - Shalom Academy, the Hebrew immersion charter school approved by Governor Chris Christie in January 2011, has been looking for a home ever since. The school planned to open in the fall of 2012, but because they did not have a place to have the school located. They tried to get an extension on the first year and were rejected, and when they asked for a second year, they were rejected again, and they appealed, and the appellate division remanded the matter back to the Commissioner to go to the Office of Administrative Law. They are in application before the Zoning Board, because they haven’t given up.

The school will start with grades K-5 depending on final approval from the State Department of Education. More than 160 students have been registered for the waiting list, and if the school isn’t full, they can take up 10% of the students from other districts.

The school’s mission—it is a public school funded by local taxpayer dollars that will serve Englewood and Teaneck—is to “strive to encourage every child to achieve the academic, technological, social, physical, and emotional skills necessary to reach his or her greatest potential.  …[To] enhance self esteem and sense of the students ability to succeed no matter what demands arise, even as their grasp of the core curriculum is assured.”

For some time, the school has considered renting the property at 165 Galway Place in Teaneck, on the second floor of a building that houses a warehouse, offices and a church. One half of the second floor would be used for the school. There have already been a number of meetings before the Teaneck Zoning Board of Adjustment, which has to approve the application before the school can open.

But although there are security concerns because there is no way to control access to the building, according to the school’s attorney, Elliot Urdang, the Zoning Board cannot rule on those issues because it is the State Department of Education, not the Teaneck or Englewood Boards of Education, that determines if the environment is safe for a functioning school. The school’s attorneys insist that the Zoning Board can only make decisions based solely on the impact of the school on the area, which in this case translates into the effect of traffic on neighboring properties. Lawyer Urdang told Jewish Link that the zoning board cannot even look at egress and ingress, they cannot look at site safety either in the building or the parking lot. The safety of the children will be looked into by the Department of Education, because of a court decision in a case in Clifton, which severely circumscribes what a zoning board can look at. Once the Zoning Board makes its decision on the traffic issues, the State will decide if the school can open.

Said one Teaneck resident, “Instead of wasting money for the taxpayers and the school, the Department of Education should first rule on the property concerns, and then we can look at parking and traffic flow. Why look at that first, and then decide if the building can be used? That’s stupid, and like I said, wastes money—for the school and the taxpayer!”

The decision is still pending. The next meeting is scheduled for the first Thursday in April and is open to the public.

By Jeanette Friedman