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Seven Oaks Dismissed As Defendant In Authorization Lawsuit

A group suing over the authorization of an Ellettsville charter school has dropped the school itself from the lawsuit.

The Indiana Coalition for Public Education Monroe County filed the lawsuit on behalf of Monroe County parents in April. It challenges the constitutionality of Seven Oaks Classical School's charter.

ICPE-Monroe County lead attorney Alex Tanford says the school requested the dismissal, sparing it from the expensive and time-consuming process of preparing a defense. Tanford says the only necessary defendant is the State.

"We had named them originally really as a courtesy because one possible consequence of this lawsuit is they will lose state funding," Tanford says. "And I think you can't file a lawsuit that could cause them to lose their state funding without giving them a chance to appear in the case and be part of it. So we gave them that chance, their lawyer filed a motion to dismiss [and] so we dismissed them."

At issue is the way Seven Oaks obtained its charter 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 and Seminary last year.

The lawsuit says this authorization violates the Establishment Clause, which prevents religious institutions from exercising government functions.

The lawsuit originally named Seven Oaks, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick and Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board James Betley.

In a notice filed Wednesday, The ICPE-Monroe County voluntarily dropped Seven Oaks as a defendant.

Early last week, Seven Oaks filed a motion to compel Grace Gollege and Seminary to join the lawsuit as a defendant; that motion is now moot since Seven Oaks is no longer legally involved, but Tanford says the State could choose to file the same motion. However, Tanford says there's no indication that Grace College wants to be involved and he doubts the State will go that route.

The State filed its initial response to the complaint early last week; Tanford says the State will narrow its defense plan as the process moves forward.

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.

Grace College authorizes two other charter schools in Indiana: Smith Academy for Excellence in Fort Wayne and Dugger Union Community School in Dugger.

Tanford says the charters for these schools could also be impacted if a judge rules in favor of the Monroe County parents.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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