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Oklahoma panel approves application for Catholic charter school

June 7, 2023
Opponents of the planned St. Isidore of Seville Virtual School say a religious-themed public school would violate the separation of church and state,

A panel that oversees charter schools in Oklahoma has voted to approve what would be the country's first taxpayer-funded religious school.

The Oklahoman reports that the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City intends to open St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School in 2024. It would serve K-12 students throughout the state.

The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, which oversees all online charter schools in the state, voted 3-2 in favor of establishing St. Isidore of Seville.

Archdiocese officials have said that the school will promote the Catholic faith and operate according to church doctrine, including its views on sexual orientation and gender identity. That raises questions of whether St. Isidore of Seville would abide by all federal non-discrimination requirements.

In April, the board rejected an application to create St. Isidore of Seville over concerns about the school's governance structure, its plan for special education students, and its ability to keep private and public funds separate. The archdiocese adjusted and resubmitted the application.

One organization, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, has pledged to mount a legal challenge to the decision.

"State and federal law are clear: Charter schools are public schools that must be secular and open to all students," the group's president and CEO Rachel Laser said. "No public-school family should fear that their child will be required by charter schools to take theology classes or be expelled for failing to conform to religious doctrines. And the government should never force anyone to fund religious education."

Oklahoma law considers charter schools to be public schools subject to state and federal laws, but supporters of St. Isidore of Seville argued a charter school should be viewed as a private entity separate from the state.

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond warned that St. Isidore of Seville would create a "slippery slope" toward state-funded religion. Drummond withdrew an opinion from his predecessor, John O'Connor, who in his final month in office said recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings compelled the state to accept religiously affiliated public charter schools.

The charter board’s decision kicks off a potential test case for the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of religious public schools.

The next step for the statewide board and school officials is to develop a charter contract to establish St. Isidore of Seville.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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