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Synagogue says plan to host displaced SLA students was announced ‘without our knowledge’

District announced Thursday that 500 SLA students split time between 440 and Rodeph Shalom while construction continues on Ben Franklin building.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Update 4:32 p.m.

After missing weeks of classes due to asbestos in their building, Science Leadership Academy students thought they had a semi-permanent home.

One problem: their host apparently wasn’t yet committed to the plan.

The School District of Philadelphia announced Thursday afternoon that 500 SLA students would spend the next three months splitting time between classrooms at district headquarters in Center City and a nearby synagogue, Rodeph Shalom.

Late Thursday evening, Rodeph Shalom executive director Fred Katz sent an email to congregants saying the district’s announcement was “premature and made without our knowledge.”

Katz said that a “thorough review is underway” with a “particular focus on security.” Katz added that synagogue leadership is “optimistic all details can be worked through.”

At first, the district did not respond to questions about the uncertainty sparked by Katz’s note.

Friday afternoon, the district and Rodeph Shalom sent a joint statement.

“While a signed agreement is not yet concluded, if feasible, there is a mutual desire to temporarily house a portion of the students of the Science Leadership Academy at Congregation Rodeph Shalom. We are working through open issues while concurrently addressing the needs of the Rodeph Shalom community.”

SLA students have already missed 11 days of classes due to construction delays and the discovery of asbestos at the building they share with Ben Franklin High School at Broad and Spring Garden.

The district announced that SLA’s and Ben Franklin’s home building would remain closed until at least early January.

At a press conference Thursday, Superintendent William Hite announced that Ben Franklin students would relocate to the site of a former charter school in North Philadelphia. Students are slated to begin classes there next week.

Until the agreement with Rodeph Shalom is finalized, all SLA students are scheduled to report to district headquarters starting Monday.