New state board puts off compliance with state Supreme Court order on St. Isidore Catholic charter school (2024)

Andrea Eger , Mike Simons

OKLAHOMA CITY — A new state governing board held off on complying with the order of the Oklahoma Supreme Court at a Monday meeting where a proposed Catholic charter school whose case may be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court was discussed.

As of Monday, the new Statewide Charter School Board takes over the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board’s legal obligations and oversight of all seven of Oklahoma’s state-sponsored virtual charter schools, as well as four traditional charter schools previously sponsored by the State Board of Education.

Those legal obligations currently include a June 25 order by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to rescind a contract for state sanctioning and taxpayer funding for public education with St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School, proposed by state Catholic leaders to become the nation’s first religious charter school.

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The state Supreme Court’s ruling declared St. Isidore unconstitutional.

But on Friday, St. Isidore’s attorneys requested a stay of the court’s order to have the state board rescind St. Isidore’s contract while Catholic leaders decide whether to appeal the case — and if they do, until the case is ultimately decided.

The office of Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drumond, who prevailed in going to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reverse what he believed to be “unlawful action” in state sanctioning and funding for a religious school, now has until July 22 to respond to St. Isidore’s request for a stay.

“Attorney General Drummond opposes St. Isidore’s disingenuous attempt to avoid the consequences of violating Oklahoma law,” Leslie Berger, press secretary for the Attorney General’s Office, said Monday. “A formal response will be filed for the Court’s consideration.”

By unanimous votes of the seven members present, Brian Shellem of Edmond was elected the new Statewide Charter School Board’s chairman, and Jared Buswell of Tulsa was elected vice chairman.

After an executive session lasting nearly 90 minutes on St. Isidore, the board took no action, but Shellem announced that the board would wait and see whether the state Supreme Court issues a stay of its order to the board.

“We do plan on honoring and respecting the decision of the Supreme Court,” Shellem said.

Amid the legal uncertainty, Catholic leaders voluntarily canceled their planned August opening of St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School.

Last year, the Oklahoma Legislature voted to dissolve the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board and replace it with this all-new governing board with expanded membership and governance responsibilities.

All appointees to the nine-member board have now been revealed as of Monday, with the final appointment by Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, announced as Ben Lepak, executive director of the State Chamber Research Foundation.

Lepak and fellow members State Superintendent Ryan Walters and Angie Thomas were absent from Monday’s meeting. However, Walters designated as his proxy on Monday an employee of the Oklahoma State Department of Education, John Tautfest, director of school choice.

Remaining new board members are Kitty Campbell, Damon Gardenhire, Becky Gooch and Kathleen White.

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New state board puts off compliance with state Supreme Court order on St. Isidore Catholic charter school (2024)
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