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Educating Elian: As some of the nation's highest-ranking officials debate the legal status of Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy who was rescued from the waters off Florida in November has been quietly learning what it means to be a good American at the private school he now attends.

Elian enrolled in Miami's Lincoln-Martí School last month after Demetrio Perez Jr., who founded it in 1968, offered the boy a full scholarship worth about $3,000 a year. A 1st grader, Elian has been guaranteed the aid through high school.

Named for Abraham Lincoln and the Cuban independence leader José Martí, the 600-student school is not church-affiliated, but stresses the importance of building good character through religion, community service, and discipline.

A 315-page Citizens Training Handbook, written by Mr. Perez, discusses moral virtue, social manners—and democracy. Stating that communism is "a system that treats the individual like an object or an instrument of production," for example, it says that communist countries like Cuba "have not been able to provide for people's most basic needs."

The book is a supplemental tool in the school's character education, said Mr. Perez, a member of the Miami-Dade County school board.

Mr. Perez says he can empathize with Elian. In 1962, at age 15, the Cuban native left his parents behind to come to the United States. They were later reunited. Both his parents were educators, his father having worked as an education official in Cuba before Castro came to power.

As of late last week, Elian was still in the middle of a tug of war between members of Congress wanting to make him a U.S. citizen and immigration officials arguing that he be sent back to his father in Cuba.

Mr. Perez is adamant that Elian should stay in this country. "His mother sacrificed everything, including her life, to get him here. And I think that's something that needs to be respected."

—Jeff Archer

Vol. 19, Issue 21, Page 5

Published in Print: February 2, 2000, as Private Schools

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