Charter school facing suit warns of potential ‘chaos’

An Ellettsville charter school affiliated with a religious institution warns that if a federal lawsuit targeting the school’s state funding is successful, similar charter schools statewide could face “chaos.”

“If Grace College is struck down by the federal court as an authorizer, then the schools it already has under supervision in Indiana will likely have to close and the charter school program in Indiana which has long served as a model for other states will be thrown into chaos,” said a statement from Seven Oaks Classical School.

Seven Oaks was sued last week, along with the Indiana Department of Education and other parties, in a lawsuit brought by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education of Monroe County and South Central Indiana Inc. The group claims state funding for charter schools that flows to religious institutions violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Indiana Constitution’s prohibition in Article 1, Section 6 against drawing money from the treasury for the benefit of a religious institution.  

A statement released by Seven Oaks board member and attorney Terry English questions the timing and motivation of the suit filed just after adjournment of the General Assembly and as the year-old charter school seeks to increase enrollment.

“The teachers, administrators, and employees of the school systems in Monroe County don’t want to compete for students by espousing the excellence of their programs. They would rather seek intervention from the court when their entreaties to the legislature have gone unheeded and their support with the public has begun to erode,” the statement said.

“The main thrust of the lawsuit centers around the ability of Grace College and Seminary to continue to serve as the authorizer of Seven Oaks Classical School. The Indiana Charter School Act authorizes Grace College to receive 3 percent of the public tax money given to Seven Oaks Classical School in basic tuition support as an administrative fee. The ICPE-MC says this payment setup is wrong and violates both the U.S. Constitution and the Indiana Constitution,” Seven Oaks said, claiming these same arguments have been rejected by the Legislature and by state education officials when the school charter was issued.

“Seven Oaks Classical School is the third school which Grace College has successfully chartered in the State of Indiana over the past few years. A fourth school may be chartered by the institution soon in Pike County, Indiana. In the prior process of chartering schools, Grace College’s integrity and ability to participate as a charter school authorizer under Indiana law has never been challenged or even seriously questioned up to this point. And, Grace College is not the only religious or theological institution in the state capable of participating in the charter school approval process. I.C. 20-24-1-2.5 also lists other not-for-profit schools in Indiana with religious ties as being eligible to serve as charter school authorizers. They include, among other schools, Anderson University, Holy Cross College, Indiana Wesleyan University, St. Mary of the Woods College, Saint Joseph’s College, Trine University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Saint Francis,” the statement said.

The case is before Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

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