November 2023 Church & State Magazine - November 2023

Okla. advances plan to create ‘religious public charter school’

 

The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted on Oct. 9 to formally approve a contract with St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School. Americans United, which is among several organizations suing in state court to block taxpayer funding of the school, decried the move.

“The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board is continuing on a misguided path to create the nation’s first religious public charter school in clear violation of Oklahoma law and the state’s promise of church-state separation and public schools that are open to all,” read a statement issued by the groups sponsoring the litigation. “The board is ignoring the legal and public education experts, religious-freedom advocates, and Oklahoma taxpayers who all oppose St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School — a public school that plans to discriminate against students, families, and staff and indoctrinate students into one religion. Our plaintiffs are fighting the approval of St. Isidore in court because they are committed to public schools that welcome and serve all Oklahomans.”

Groups joining Americans United to block the creation of the school include the American Civil Liberties Union, Education Law Center and Freedom From Religion Foundation. The organizations filed the lawsuit on July 31. 

The organizations are supported by Oklahoma-based counsel Odom & Sparks PLLC and J. Douglas Mann. The lawsuit, OKPLAC, Inc. v. Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, was filed on behalf of nine Oklahoma residents and a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting public education in Oklahoma.

The plaintiffs are faith leaders, public school parents and public education advocates who object to their tax dollars funding a public charter school that will discriminate against students and families based on their religion and LGBTQ+ status, fail to serve students with disabilities adequately and indoctrinate students into one religion.

The plaintiffs are: OKPLAC (Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee), Melissa Abdo, Krystal Bonsall, Leslie Briggs, Brenda Lené, Michele Medley, Dr. Bruce Prescott, the Rev. Dr. Mitch Randall, the Rev. Dr. Lori Walke and Erika Wright.

The lawsuit charges that the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board violated the Oklahoma Constitution, the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act and the board’s own regulations when it approved St. Isidore’s application for charter-school sponsorship on June 5, 2023.

The team of attorneys that represents the plaintiffs is led by Alex J. Luchenitser and Kenneth D. Upton Jr. of Americans United and includes Kalli A. Joslin of Americans United; Daniel Mach and Heather L. Weaver of the ACLU; Robert Kim, Jessica Levin and Wendy Lecker of Education Law Center; Patrick Elliott of FFRF; Benjamin H. Odom, John H. Sparks, Michael W. Ridgeway and Lisa M. Millington of Odom & Sparks; and J. Douglas Mann.

For more information about the legal action, see “Not OK!,” September 2023 Church & State.

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