The Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State is speaking out against a proposed Chicago charter school for the city's Austin neighborhood. The group believes the school, if allowed to open, would go against the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.
The charter school operator Chicago Education Partnership (CEP) won conditional approval by the Chicago Board of Education back in January to open a new Austin elementary campus in 2015. The effort to bring the new charter to Austin is a partnership between CEP and By The Hand Club for Kids, which operates a "Christ-centered" after school program in the West Side community at 415 N. Laramie Ave. and is affiliated with The Moody Church.*
The proposed school, if awarded final approval, would eventually serve grades K-8. By the Hand would be in charge of after-school programming, which would include lessons about the Bible in addition to help with homework and meals for students.
“The faith-based part, as we’ve said all along, stays in the after-school hours,” CEP Executive Director and By the Hand leader Mike Rogers told theChicago Sun-Times.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State recently sent a letter to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) district, which in part stated that, “The public charter school that Chicago Education Partnership proposes would unlawfully endorse religion and coerce participation in religious activity." In the letter, the group called on the school board to reject CEP's request for final charter approval, the newspaper reported.
“Since the school doesn’t have final approval yet, we want to make sure the school board, the school leadership and the school attorneys are aware of the serious constitutional problems if they allow this school to actually be implemented,” Americans United for Separation of Church and State's Legal Director Alex Luchenitser said, adding that the group has not ruled out filing a lawsuit if CEP is allowed to open the charter.
Members of Action Now and West Side education activists, who in January staged a protest against the proposed Austin charter, have also questioned CEP's partnership with By The Hand due to its affiliation with The Moody Church.
CEP is required to submit more details involving its curriculum and other academic information to CPS before it gains full approval, which could happen by fall of this year.
In a statement provided to the Sun-Times, CPS spokesman Joel Hood said "CPS’ and ISBE’s review and oversight processes will ensure that the educational plan meets the District’s and the state’s standards. State law specifies that charter schools must be nonsectarian and nonreligious and requires all new schools to submit a copy of their curriculum in order to be certified by the Illinois State Board of Education.”
**A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Moody Bible Institute is affiliated with the By The Hand Club for Kids. We apologize for the mistake.