The principal of Great Neck North High School, who sent an alarming letter to parents and even called the cops about a shul offering lunch and learn programs for his students, has now backed down, admitting poor judgment.
On Jan. 31, Bernard Kaplan warned parents of the heavily Jewish public school that the school has "deep concerns" that students, who are allowed to leave campus for lunch, were visiting nearby Torah Ohr Hebrew Academy for the free lunch of fare such as pizza bagels, while Rabbi Avraham Kohan spoke to them about the Torah. "[Torah Ohr] believes it is perfectly okay for them to entice our students with free lunch in order to give them orthodox [sic] religious instruction, or what many would frankly call proseytizing children," Kaplan wrote. In the letter, he added that he and other school officials visited the shul and asked the rabbi to obtain permission slips from the kids' parents, to no avail.
"We have contaced the police and other local authorities who up to now say there is nothing they can do," Kaplan wrote.
The American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and Agudath Israel of America all said this week that Kaplan's actions were inappropriate because the school does not place restrictions on students' visiting any other locations during their lunch break.
"Placing restrictions on or creating special requirements for the temples' lunch and learn program is an infringment on a student's right to association and free exercise of religion in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution," wrote Ron Meier, regional director and Seth Marnin, regional counsel of the ADL. "The law is clear: as the principal of a public school you cannot endorse or interfere with religious practice."
The ADL urged Kaplan to retract his letter and apologize to the school community and the temple.
“Our single issue is that we think parents have a right to know if their kids are getting religious instruction during the school day,” Kaplan said in an interview Monday. “But the temple did not have a legal obligation [to inform parents] and as fa as that is concerned the issue is resolved.”
In a second letter to parents mailed Friday, Kaplan wrote that "upon reflection, my letter of Jan. 31 ... was an unintended infringement on students' rights. The principal of a public school cannot interfere with religious practice conducted outside of the school's purview."
Kaplan apologize to those who "were affronted by my letter" and urged parents to discuss lunchtime activities with their kids.