OSDE moves to dismiss lawsuit against proposed religious online charter school
KOKH - September 22, 2023 6:28 am
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (KOKH) — The Oklahoma State Department of Education and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters (R) have filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School.
Outside legal counsel from First Liberty Institute and Spencer Fane LLP are assisting the department with the matter.
According to Hiram Sasser, executive general counsel for First Liberty, the outside representation is coming at no cost to the department.
FOX 25 examined the legal battle mounting over what could be the nation’s first religious charter school.
In June, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted to greenlight St. Isidore’s.
By late July, a lawsuit against the school came down claiming it violated separation of church and state—among other legal issues.
Erin Brewer, vice president of the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee, is part of one of the groups suing.
“It appears to us that Ryan Walters, bless his heart, either fundamentally misunderstands our Constitution, or he’s just lying,” he asserted.
In her view, St. Isidore’s would violate Oklahomans’ rights by allowing the government to impose a religion.
On the other hand, Sasser argued that not approving the school would equate to discrimination based on religion.
He claimed that if other groups can form charter schools, then those behind St. Isidore’s should have the same opportunity.
“The state board of education’s going to follow both the Oklahoma law and also follow the U.S. Constitution and they’re going to do it… in the way the Supreme Court has said that they’re supposed to do it,” he shared.
Both Sasser and and Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond (R) weighed in on another major question key to the case: are charter schools considered state actors, and, by extension, subject to the rules and regulations of traditional public schools?
Their opinions differ.
In an interview with FOX 25 on Wednesday, Drummond explained that, “The charter school is a state actor. And a state actor may not promote any religion… until we alter… our state and federal constitutions.”
According to Sasser, however, “The virtual charter schools are not state actors. They’re not government entities. They’re private entities that are participating in a government program.”
The July lawsuit named the virtual charter school board, OSDE, and Walters—among others.
However, Sasser asserted that neither the department nor Walters have taken any action yet on the school, so the suit against them is premature and might be tossed on those grounds alone.
“My message back to Ryan Walters would be to remember what he taught when he was a history teacher. To remember the writers and authors of our Constitution, and what they enshrined there as rights for us,” added Brewer.