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A legal effort to block the nation's first religious charter school is scheduled for arguments April 2 in the Oklahoma Supreme Court. But that hasn't stopped the school from enrolling students.

The St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School is accepting applications through the end of March for the 2024-25 school year, despite the possibility it will not overcome legal challenges. About 200 students have applied to attend so far, according to KOCO.

Like other public schools, St. Isidore is set to receive a per-pupil allocation from the state. But unlike other public schools, religious teachings feature prominently in the curriculum and operations.

According to the school's handbook, Catholic teachings and Christian values will be part of every school day through worship, prayer, religion classes and the general climate of the school. Local churches will serve as hubs for student gatherings, and two all-school masses will occur each year, one in Oklahoma City and one in Tulsa.

Proponents say they're ready to take the St. Isidore case to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to change the court's interpretation of the First Amendment's separation of church and state.

Gov. Kevin Stitt supports the school and this week promoted its enrollment on X, formerly Twitter, even though elected officials vow to support the state constitution and state law, which both prohibit publicly-funded religious schools.

The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved the school, which is operated by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and Diocese of Tulsa, by a 3-2 vote in October.

Opponents (including some Catholics and other religious leaders) say the school would be free to discriminate on the basis of religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics, in opposition to the state's obligation to provide a system of schools that are open to all.

Leading the legal challenge is Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who in October filed a writ of mandamus with the court, essentially asking it to force the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board to invalidate its contract with St. Isidore.

The board is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which also developed the arguments that led to the end of Roe v. Wade, and the school is represented by the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Initiative.

The court last week rejected Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters' third attempt to insert himself into the lawsuit. Drummond, St. Isidore and the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board opposed it and the court denied Walters' request.

Arguments are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. April 2 and the hearing will be livestreamed. Each side is allotted 30 minutes.

Questions, comments, story tips? Please reach out via email or direct message.

— Jennifer Palmer

Recommended Reading

  • A state senator has introduced legislation that would enhance penalties for bullying when the victim dies by suicide. The proposal comes after suicide deaths of Owasso High School student Nex Benedict and Mustang High School student Jot Turner. [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • House Speaker Charles McCall said lawmakers will consider placing limits on the state Education Department's spending on self-promotion following an Epic Text Books investigation into a PR contract to get Superintendent Ryan Walters on national TV. [The Oklahoman]
  • The prevalence of video, images and text created by artificial intelligence are driving a push for students to learn media literacy. [NPR]

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