Monday, April 12, 2010

2 Catholic schools to convert

Following a trend set in New York and Washington DC, Catholic leaders in Indianapolis have decided to convert two parochial schools into state-funded charter schools. However, this marks the first time that an archdiocese will run public charter schools. In order to qualify for almost $1 million in funding for the first year, the schools St. Anthony’s and St. Andrew and St. Rita’s Academy will have to undergo significant changes. All prayer, Bibles and religious icons have to be removed from the school and religious education during the school day will end. Teachers will also have to undergo strict lessons on the constitutional duties of public school teachers, and all of the teachers will have to reapply for their jobs, though the archdiocese expects most of the teachers to return. Americans United for Separation of Church and State has taken on the role of watchdog, to ensure that the archdiocese goes through with its promises to remove the church from the now state-funded schools. The president of the group’s chapter in Indiana stated, “we are certainly going to be watching the situation as closely as we can and making noise about it when we see things going on that should not be”. The schools will even be renamed this summer. The schools are in very low-income areas and as such, the archdiocese has a long history of subsidizing them. While the schools are not overjoyed about the decision to apply for charter status, parents are very excited about only having to pay for textbook rental once the conversion is complete.

The mayor sees this as an innovative way to keep good schools open in neighborhoods that are underprivileged, and as a way to ensure that these struggling parochial schools stay open. Indianapolis is a unique situation because ADI Charter Schools Inc, a non-profit set up by the archdiocese will continue to run the schools once they are converted. The parochial schools that were converted in New York and Washington DC were turned over to a secular organization. As families continue to find it more difficult to pay parochial school tuition, more schools are looking into converting to charter schools. Officials feel confident that the schools will successfully be able to separate religion from the school through secular adaptation of the state-approved character education curriculum already used in the city's urban Catholic schools. Parents are confident that children will still learn the same Catholic values in these schools through parental involvement at the school and ensuring that their children remain active in their local parishes. Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, stresses that “the schools will have to walk a fine line…This switch goes far beyond saying, ‘Well, we're no longer going to say prayers.’ There is a whole set of obligations that public schools have to students and to the public that private schools do not have”.

Once again we see the collision of the state and religion in schools. Like many of the cases we have read in class this article discusses the role religion is going to play in the running of a public school. However, in this case the school was previously run privately by the Catholic Church and is converting to a public charter school as a result of financial troubles. Additionally, there have been previous, successful transitions of parochial schools into secular charter schools, but they have been run afterwards by secular organizations. In Indianapolis, the non-profit that will be running the schools is organized by the archdiocese. This can present some potential problems in keeping the schools secular, as will the parental involvement. Parents want to make sure that their children still receive the same Catholic morals that they were receiving before the school became public. The school will have to be very careful to not promote anything religious, as they will be closely watched. As we saw in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, Wallace v. Jaffree, and Edwards v. Aguillard, the court is becoming increasingly strict on religious activities occurring during the school day. I think that the parochial organization running the day-to-day operations of the charter school will complicate the secularization of the schools. I do not think that a religiously affiliated organization should have any type of control over a school that is being funded by taxpayers. Charter schools are traditionally free from many of the regulations regular public schools are subject to by the state regarding ciriculum and budget, so I think the state and the ‘watchdog’ organization should keep a close eye on these new charter schools to ensure that they realize they are now secular schools. I think it is very noble of the Indianapolis government to try to rescue these good schools serving needy areas, and if they want this venture to be successful, they have to keep a close eye on the curriculum and activities of the school to ensure that any religious education that the students receive occurs after school, or at their respective churches.


Teresa M said...

I am amazed at the attempt by the Catholic Church to continue servicing this traditionally underprivileged diocese by releasing its hold on religious content. For this action, the Catholic Church proves itself more interested in its role as community educator than the State--and more willing to accommodate than the State.

As for the paranoid concern that religion may enter into the classroom, the Supreme Court has already acknowledged that religion will most likely always be an aspect of education. It is not religion, as such, that we must keep an watchful eye for, but proselytizing and coercion of religious doctrine.

That parents are such an integral part of the school speaks to the school's academic success. Parental support is one of the most powerful means of academic success and its absence is bemoaned by all secular public schools. Private schools, parochial or charter, have different expectations not only of the student, but of the parent. May it continue once the changes take place this summer.

Schools are expensive enterprises. Traditionally, Catholic schools have managed to keep costs down through direct subsidy of the Church. With all the abuse lawsuits of the last two decades, the Catholic Church can no longer support all their schools and placing financial burden on poor parents is not a solution. The blogger is worried that the religious oversight committee may run into conflicts of interest in the course of administering the charter school and I find this a valid concern. No doubt at some point a parent will sue and we will learn about the Supreme Court's view.

Abby P said...

The entanglement between religion and public schools has been seen in a number of cases that we have discussed throughout the semester; and it can certainly be seen once again in the case summarized in this post. It is interesting that the Catholic Church will continue to remain in control of these two schools; despite their switch to become secular charter schools. I do think that it is a good thing that these schools are going to remain open in such underprivileged neighborhoods. However, as was observed in the post this does have the potentiality of contributing to excessive entanglement of church and state. The parents of the children still want Catholic morals to be taught in the schools; and such morals are obviously based on religion. Whether this will result in an establishment issue remains to be seen. But it seems that the Catholic Church remaining in charge of such schools will require extreme oversight from others.

David I said...

In my opinion, the fact that this formerly private school recognized the fact that to provide an education to many impoverished students in Indianapolis is a noble cause. As Teresa states in her above blog post, schools are expensive to run, and these schools have turned to the government for help. Parents may complain about Catholic teachings being removed from the ideals of the school, they are able to shape these thoughts in the mind of the children by switching to another school. By changing its affiliation, the school has taken an active role in determining the quality and success of the school and its students. While the school will be walking a fine line as it transitions from a Catholic school to a secular one, it will be the government's responsibility to regulate the secularization of the school, its curricular practices and the teachers involved.

Gavin C. said...

Just a quick note on this case: it can be argued that many rural public schools, particularly in the South, are Protestant run schools, and Protestant values are most certainly taught in such schools. This seems not to be a problem for the communities. However, as we saw in the Pueblo Indian schools, the mingling of religion and government becomes a problem when it is Catholic rather than Protestant religion that is involved.