OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted too disapprove, what could have been, the first religious charter school in the United States.
In a 5-0 vote, all board members chose to disapprove the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School application.
What was heard in the two hour meeting was a lot of concern over qualified immunity.
Board members didn’t want to be sued for breaking the law if they were to have voted in favor of the charter school.
The board’s attorney read from state statutes and the Oklahoma Constitution, which states that public money cannot be used for religious purposes.
“As we sit here today I just want you to be aware of the law is in Oklahoma,” said the general counsel.
Chairman Dr. Robert Franklin wanted members to have all the legal information matched up with the charter school’s application, and to understand the potential consequences, including a lawsuit.
“I just think its important that you all have that at your doorstep. OK, if you vote in violation of the constitution and the authorities that is here to represent us with, that’s something you put at risk,” said Franklin.
The board also heard from six citizens that expressed their concerns over the application and asked for each member to “vote no.”
“To uphold the constitution and the law and to protect the religious freedom of all Oklahomans, please vote to deny this application,” said Rev. Lori Walke.
State Superintendent Ryan Walters was at the meeting. Walters is a non-voting board member.
He addressed the board at one point calling the people that participated in public comment “radical leftists.”
“I know that you all have heard from a lot of different folks and you’ve heard from some radical leftists that their hatred for the Catholic Church blinds them in doing what’s best for kids,” said Walters. “Their hatred for the Catholic Church has caused them to attack our very foundational religious liberties and attacking this school and its application.”
Franklin immediately responded.
“Superintendent Walters, out of respect for you and the colleagues who spoke before us, no disrespect to you, but I didn’t hear a radical position nor did I hear an attack to the Catholic Church,” replied the chairman. “Just from the Chair’s perspective, I just want to make sure and go on record, I didn’t hear that from these comments.”
Ultimately the board vote to disapprove the application and added several recommendations for the applicants to address for the next meeting.
Among some of the concerns:
- More insight into instruction for students with disabilities
- A plan to keep separate public and private funds
- An explanation of how the application did not violate state law
- Broadband connectivity for rural students (the application is for a virtual charter school)
A new 30 day window will now begin before the next vote.
The application can be modified and resubmitted with the board’s proposed changes.
Despite the delay and the concerns, the Catholic Church, which backs this plan to make the charter school, is not deterred.
“The supreme court has said three times now that you cannot discriminate against religious institutions simply because they are religious,” said Brett Farley, executive director for Catholic Conference of Oklahoma.