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Oklahoma judge allows most of case against Catholic charter school to move forward

Plaintiff attorney Alex Luchenitser speaks to reporters outside of the courtroom after the Wednesday hearing.
Beth Wallis
/
StateImpact Oklahoma
Plaintiff attorney Alex Luchenitser speaks to reporters outside of the courtroom after the Wednesday hearing.

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against what would be the nation’s first publicly funded religious school, the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School, beat one hurdle in their case Wednesday.

Oklahoma County District Judge Richard Ogden denied defendants' motions to dismiss on three of four claims and gave the plaintiffs 20 days to amend the remaining claim.

The case was brought by the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Advocacy Coalition, as well as other parents and taxpayers, against St. Isidore, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the State Department of Education, the State Board of Education and State Superintendent Ryan Walters for the authorization of the school — a move that still faces open questions as to its legitimacy.

The plaintiffs’ representation includes Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the ACLU, the Education Law Center and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, in addition to local counsel.

“This school is not appropriate for all students, so it should not get public funds,” said plaintiff lawyer Alex Luchenitser after the hearing. “It should be a private school. It should not try to be a public school.”

The surviving claims say St. Isidore will discriminate against students in admissions and discipline, as well as discriminate against employees in employment practices; fail to adequately serve children with disabilities; and indoctrinate students into a religion.

Phil Sechler, attorney for the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, told reporters after the Wednesday hearing he thinks many of the plaintiffs' claims will be addressed in a similar case pending in the State Supreme Court, brought by the Oklahoma attorney general.
Beth Wallis
/
StateImpact Oklahoma
Phil Sechler, attorney for the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, told reporters after the Wednesday hearing he thinks many of the plaintiffs' claims will be addressed in a similar case pending in the State Supreme Court, brought by the Oklahoma attorney general.

One of the main arguments from defendants focused on whether the plaintiffs adequately established a private right of action — that is, the ability for a private citizen to seek damages against a person or organization that violated their rights, either through a criminal or civil action. Plaintiffs rebutted, saying taxpayers had a right to sue over public spending on alleged illegal actions.

Throughout the hearing, Ogden repeatedly questioned defendants as to why their arguments wouldn’t be better suited for later in the trial process, instead of the early dismissal stage.

Ogden also seemed skeptical of the plaintiffs’ assertions that discrimination against students and employees had occurred, given the lack of specific examples of students or employees who had been wronged. Plaintiffs responded St. Isidore’s policies themselves, as evidenced in its application for sponsorship and contract with the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, run afoul of the Oklahoma Constitution and the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act.

St. Isidore is set to open this fall. According to its website, it accepted applications for lottery enrollment this spring and is still hiring for several teaching positions and a staff position. Plaintiffs have also filed a motion to stop St. Isidore from opening in the fall.

A decision in Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s separate case against the school is still pending at the Oklahoma Supreme Court.


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Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
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