Last year, a network of nine Catholic Schools in Memphis Tennessee announced it would be closing for good. But a group called New Day Schools, Inc. planned to replace those private religious schools with six publicly funded charter schools.
Okay. Fine. There are plenty of reasons to critique charter schools, but as long as they’re playing by the rules, there’s nothing wrong with this on the surface. The Shelby County Schools Board approved the deal, and the agreement said those six schools would operate inside Catholic Church properties.
Again. Fine. If that’s the only space you have, it’s weird but it’s also not necessarily a problem since it’s not like the Catholic Church has anything to do with these schools anymore. They’re literally just renting out space, right?
No. According to Jennifer Pignolet of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the new Compass Community Schools network signed a contract with the Diocese of Memphis that “contains a clause agreeing not to teach anything that goes against the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
The chairman of the board for the group, John Smarrelli, who is also the president of Christian Brothers University, confirmed the charter group that oversees all six schools signed the lease and agreed to the terms, but declined to provide a copy of the lease.
A public records request is pending for the full agreement.
Smarrelli said the group sees no conflict and plans to teach to the standards set in place by the state Board of Education.
There’s so much wrong with this… Why won’t the public schools provide a copy of the lease? Why won’t they talk about the terms of the agreement? And why doesn’t this guy see a conflict? Because there are some obvious ones.
Contraception, for example, is part of the health class standards in high school, requiring students to receive medically accurate information. The church has long stood against artificial contraception.
The Catholic Diocese of Memphis declined to answer any questions, including whether the church would allow the charter schools to teach contraception inside their buildings.
How will they discuss abortion? What about the presentation of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights? What if two boys want to attend Prom together? Will explicitly non-Christian clubs be allowed to form and meet? Will teachers in openly same-sex marriages be allowed to work in these schools?
And why is it so hard for Church leaders or school officials to say the only acceptable answer, which is, “The Catholic Church will have absolutely no input into our curriculum or hiring even when there may be conflicts with their teachings”?
If there is any chance the Church gets a say in how these public schools operate, this is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
We are concerned about all aspects of this relationship. If a dispute arises, how is it to be settled? Is it up to the court system to determine whether a particular lesson at a Tennessee public school runs contrary to Roman Catholic doctrine? Will Memphis children at these schools receive the same teaching, as required by Tennessee standards, in the area of sex education?
We will be watching this closely to ensure that Tennessee public schools do not violate the Constitution, and we will not hesitate to bring legal action to protect the rights of Tennessee students and their parents to a secular public education. I am requesting that you immediately require the release of the lease in question to the public, and work to ensure the Constitution is protected here.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)