Okla Virtual Charter

Oklahoma rejects application for religious charter school

April 13, 2023
The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City wants to create St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, an online school that would serve students throughout the state.

A state school board in Oklahoma has rejected an application for what would have been the first religious charter school in the country.

The Oklahoman reports that the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted unanimously to disapprove an application to create St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School.

But the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City will have a chance to address the board's questions and resubmit its application. Board members would have 30 days after receiving the updated application to decide whether to approve or reject it.

Board members turned down the application not on constitutional grounds but because of questions over the school's governance structure, its plan for special education students, and its ability to prevent commingling of private and public funds, among other logistical concerns.

A legal challenge is likely to follow whichever decision the board makes, either from the Catholic Church or from a group opposing the concept of a religious public school.

St. Isidore of Seville would be a charter school educating students online throughout Oklahoma. The school would promote, teach and enforce Catholic doctrine, including the church’s beliefs on sexual orientation, gender identity and morality.

Attorney General Gentner Drummond warned the board that the school would create a “slippery slope” toward state-funded religion.

Drummond withdrew an opinion from his predecessor, John O’Connor, who declared that recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings compelled Oklahoma to allow religious charter schools.

State schools Superintendent Ryan Walters and the governor have endorsed St. Isidore of Seville as a way to expand religious liberty and school choice.

Attending the meeting as a non-voting member of the board, Walters urged board members to approve the application and blamed opposition to the school on anti-Catholic leftists.

Multiple opponents of St. Isidore of Seville spoke at the meeting. They contended that funding a religious school with taxpayer dollars would violate the foundational concept of separation of church and state, 

More than 9,000 students attend Catholic schools in Oklahoma. Most of these schools operate in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan areas.

A statewide virtual school could serve students in areas where no Catholic schools exist, said Lara Schuler, senior director for Catholic education at the Oklahoma City archdiocese.

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