Charter school teaming with faith-based nonprofit would violate Constitution: group
BY BECKY SCHLIKERMAN Staff Reporter May 11, 2014 7:45PM
During By the Hand Club's chapel time, Myshonti Sanders, 11 says a short prayer before returning to her classroom to begin her homework, Wednesday February 19, 2014. | Jessica Koscielniak / Sun-Times
Updated: June 13, 2014 6:09AM
A tentatively approved Chicago charter school partnering with a faith-based group would violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to a group that advocates keeping church and state separate.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in a letter sent to Chicago Public Schools officials, is urging the Chicago Board of Education to deny final approval to the charter school group, the Chicago Education Partnership. The school board earlier this year gave conditional approval to the Chicago Education Partnership’s plan for an elementary school expected to open in 2015 in Austin.
The school would hold classes during the day. After school, a nonprofit, faith-based, after-school program affiliated with the Moody Church would take over and help kids with homework, feed them dinner and teach them about the Bible.
If the school gets final approval, Americans United for Separation of Church and State could sue, said Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for the group, which is based in Washington, D.C. The group learned of the proposal as a result of Chicago Sun-Times reporting.
“Since the school doesn’t have final approval yet, we want to make sure the school board, the school leadership and the school attorneys are aware of the serious constitutional problems if they allow this school to actually be implemented,” Luchenitser said.
But officials with the Chicago Education Partnership and By the Hand Club for Kids, the nonprofit group, said they won’t cross any lines and children and parents can have a say if they want to be involved in any religious programming that would take place after school.
“I think it’s unfortunate that we are being singled out for this type of an action. I think everyone who starts a charter school has a belief system whether they are Muslim or Buddhist or agnostic or atheist,” said Michael Rogers, executive director of Chicago Education Partnership and a leader at By the Hand. “I don’t . . . recall this group attacking any other charter operators for their belief system.”
Rogers said the school and the after-school portion would be managed separately.
“The faith-based part, as we’ve said all along, stays in the after-school hours,” he said.
But Luchenitser’s group thinks the charter group’s plan doesn’t have an adequate barrier between the school portion, which is funded by taxpayers, and the after-school program.
“The public charter school that Chicago Education Partnership proposes would unlawfully endorse religion and coerce participation in religious activity,” Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote in a letter to members of the Board of Education.
The Chicago Education Partnership is still working to meet all of CPS’ requirements before receiving final approval in the fall, Rogers said.
“Chicago Education Partnership received conditional approval from the board in January and CPS’ and ISBE’s review and oversight processes will ensure that the educational plan meets the District’s and the state’s standards,” CPS spokesman Joel Hood said in a statement. “State law specifies that charter schools must be nonsectarian and nonreligious and requires all new schools to submit a copy of their curriculum in order to be certified by the Illinois State Board of Education.”