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Lawsuit Challenges Authorization Of Seven Oaks Classical School

A group of Monroe County parents filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday challenging a portion of Indiana’s Charter Schools Act that allows a religious college to authorize a charter school.

The lawsuit is filed against Seven Oaks Classical School, the state superintendent of public instruction and the director of the Indiana Charter Schools Board. It says allowing Grace College and Seminary to serve as an authorizer for Seven Oaks violates the Constitution.

At issue is how Seven Oaks obtained its authorization. The state charter school board denied Seven Oaks’ first application in 2014 and the school withdrew its second application after the state board recommended denial.

State law says nonprofit colleges and universities can also authorize charter schools, so Seven Oaks went that route and received approval from Grace College last year.

Alex Tanford helped file the lawsuit on behalf of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education Monroe County and says the authorization by Grace College violates the Establishment Clause, which prevents religious institutions from exercising government functions.

"So, essentially, [Seven Oaks] didn’t like the result of a state agency, so they went and appealed to a church and they overrule the state agency," Tanford says. "We don’t know of any other situation where a charter school was initially denied by the state and had that decision reversed by a religious institution."

The lawsuit asks for Seven Oaks’ charter to be revoked and for an injunction stopping the distribution of state funds to the school and Grace College. State law allows for Grace College to receive 3 percent of the public money allocated to Seven Oaks.

Seven Oaks opened last September in Elletsville. The headmaster of the school declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Read the complete lawsuit below.

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