OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School board got its first glimpse at a proposed religious virtual charter school Tuesday, which would be called St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School.
The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City collaborated with the Diocese of Tulsa to share the school’s concept with the board, who will make a final decision on whether to approve or deny the school in April.
The Oklahoma charter school would be the first in the country and it has already sparked national interest. Many organizations have already said it would violate the First Amendment, as well as other state and federal laws.
“The Charter School Act is pretty clear that you cannot establish a charter school with religious affiliation or religious curriculum,” said Karen Heineman, with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Brett Farley is the executive director of Catholic Conference of Oklahoma. He said the school would run like a Catholic school and simply be another option for parents.
“We’re not talking about establishing a religion through religious charter schools,” said Farley. “All we’re talking about is an anchor carrying values and principles and virtues, so forth, as we’re already doing in our schools.”
Former Attorney General John O’Connor issued an opinion on religious charter schools while still in office in December of 2022. Here is section of his opinion:
“We do not believe the U.S. Supreme Court would accept the argument that, because charter schools are considered public for various purposes, that a state should be allowed to discriminate against religiously affiliated private participants who wish to establish and operate charter schools in accordance with their faith alongside other private participants.”
Shortly after the opinion was issued, Governor Kevin Stitt applauded O’Connor’s remarks.
Heineman, however, said the charter school would force those who attend to follow certain religious beliefs.
“We’re worried about the discrimination,” said Heineman. “They’re openly saying will happen if it conflicts with catholic law.”
Farley said just because the Archdiocese is a religious institution, the virtual charter school deserved the same opportunities as other entities.
“That’s the great thing about school choice is parents have a choice,” said Farley. “We’re not requiring that they send their kids to this school. We’re simply saying you’ve got one more option. And you don’t have to worry about forking over the dollars to afford that because the state’s going to pay for it.”
Farley said the school, if it was approved, would have around 400 to 500 students in its first year which would open in the Fall of 2024. That is if litigation does not hold up the process. Both the church and opposing organizations said they would fight this all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.