Ray Carter | December 17, 2020

After long delay, Christian school’s application approved

Ray Carter

After months of delay, the State Board of Education has quietly approved Christian Heritage Academy’s application to serve children who are beneficiaries of a state scholarship program.

The approval was part of a consent docket voted on by board members at the group’s regular December meeting and came after an opinion by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter warned that regulations cited to bar Christian Heritage Academy’s participation were illegally enacted.

The Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) Scholarships for Students with Disabilities program provides scholarships to students with special needs and foster children, allowing them to attend private schools in Oklahoma. Under state law, participating private schools must comply with the antidiscrimination provisions of a section of federal law that bars discrimination “on the ground of race, color, or national origin.”

However, under the leadership of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, the OSDE drafted new regulations in 2019 that expanded that list to cover nine categories, including “religion” and “sexual orientation.” Those changes effectively barred schools that adhere to historic Christian teachings from participating in the program and were previously cited as justification to deny Christian Heritage Academy’s application.

Agency officials claimed the new restrictions were required due to an executive order issued during the administration of former President Bill Clinton.

But Hunter’s opinion noted that “federal statutes cannot be amended or expanded by Executive Order” and said the OSDE rule “misinterprets both federal law and the statute authorizing the Henry Program, and was therefore beyond the authority of the Department to promulgate under the Administrative Procedures Act.”

The board’s prior refusal to approve Christian Heritage Academy’s application occurred despite the school’s nondiscrimination policy stating that CHA “admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin” and “does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin, or disability in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, and athletic and other school-administered programs.”

The school’s safety and health protocols state, “Biblically based plans and procedures are developed that educate the school community regarding harassment, intimidation, and bullying. Students and families are educated on how to build biblically-based relationships, have caring interaction, and resolve conflicts with peers.”

In its application, Christian Heritage Academy also noted that it provides “a multi-tiered specialized student learning service plan for students with disabilities.”

While the State Board of Education reversed course and approved Christian Heritage Academy’s application, the group took no action to revoke the regulations that Hunter found were illegal, and the group did not discuss that issue during the meeting.

(Image: Google Earth/Google Maps)

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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