OKLAHOMA CITY — Nine Oklahoma residents and a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting public education in Oklahoma filed a lawsuit today in state court to stop Oklahoma from sponsoring and funding the nation’s first religious public charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School. 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 adequately serve students with disabilities, and indoctrinate students into one religion — all in violation of Oklahoma law and our country’s promises of the separation of church and state and public schools that are open to all. (A link to a descriptive list of plaintiffs is available below.)
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Education Law Center and Freedom From Religion Foundation represent the plaintiffs in OKPLAC, Inc. v. Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. They are assisted by Oklahoma-based counsel Odom & Sparks PLLC and J. Douglas Mann.
The lawsuit demonstrates 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. Reasons that the application was unlawful include:
- St. Isidore plans to discriminate in its policies and practices based on religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other protected characteristics. Students could be denied admission, disciplined, or even expelled if they or their family members are LGBTQ+, a different religious faith, or do not otherwise conform to certain Catholic religious beliefs.
- St. Isidore reserves the right to discriminate against students on the basis of disability and failed to show that it would provide adequate services to students with disabilities.
- St. Isidore plans to provide a religious education and indoctrinate its students in Catholic religious beliefs. The school’s application states that the school will “participate in the evangelizing mission of the [Catholic] Church” and will fully incorporate the Church’s teachings “into every aspect of the School,” including “all subjects” taught and all activities offered.
- The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City will have control over the school in violation of board regulations that require a charter school to be independent of its educational management organization.
The plaintiffs are asking the District Court of Oklahoma County to block (1) St. Isidore from operating as a charter school, (2) the charter school board from entering into or implementing any contracts with St. Isidore, and (3) the state from funding St. Isidore.
The plaintiffs in OKPLAC, Inc. v. Statewide Virtual Charter School Board include OKPLAC Inc. (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. (Detailed descriptions of the plaintiffs are available here.)
“The Oklahoma Legislature created charter schools to be part of the public school system and to be open to all students,” said Robert Kim, Education Law Center Executive Director. “Allowing a religious charter school not only defies the will of the Legislature, but it also upends the very notion of public education by endorsing a school that has indicated it will refuse to abide by core principles, including non-discrimination requirements, that are essential to a public education system.”
Additional quotes from the organizations sponsoring the lawsuit and the plaintiffs are available here.
Defendants in the lawsuit are the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board; its five members; the Oklahoma State Department of Education; State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters; and St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School, Inc.
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
Contacts: Requests for information or media interviews should be directed to:
- Education Law Center: Sharon Krengel, email@example.com, 973.624.1815, x240
- Americans United: Liz Hayes, firstname.lastname@example.org, 724.493.2834
- ACLU: Andrew Everett, email@example.com, 212.549.2666
- FFRF: Patrick Elliott, firstname.lastname@example.org or Annie Laurie Gaylor, 608.256.8900
Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom. Learn more at www.au.org.
For more than 100 years, the ACLU has worked in courts, legislatures, and communities to protect the constitutional rights of all people. With a nationwide network of offices and millions of members and supporters, the ACLU takes on the toughest civil liberties fights in pursuit of liberty and justice for all. For more information on the ACLU, visit www.aclu.org.
Education Law Center pursues justice and equity for public school students by enforcing their right to a high-quality education in safe, equitable, non-discriminatory, integrated, and well-funded learning environments. We seek to support and improve public schools as the center of communities and the foundation of a multicultural and multiracial democratic society.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. Learn more at www.ffrf.org.
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications