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Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Ellettsville Charter School’s Authorization

By Becca Costello, IPB News | Published on in Education, Government
Seven Oaks Classical School in Ellettsville (WFIU/WTIU News)

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the authorization of an Ellettsville charter school. The judge says the group of public school advocates that brought the challenge didn’t establish adequate legal standing.

The Indiana Coalition for Public Education Monroe County filed the lawsuit last year challenging Grace College and Seminary’s authorization for Seven Oaks Classical School.

The lawsuit says the state law allowing religious institutions to do so is unconstitutional, because they’re exercising government functions.

And the parents who brought the lawsuit say local schools are losing out on public money that’s diverted to Seven Oaks.

But a federal judge says the lawsuit didn’t prove that the state’s charter authorization law caused the groups’ grievances.

Attorney for ICPE-Monroe County Alex Tanford says the judge set a really high bar for proving their arguments.

“A lot of judges will tend to defer to the democratic process that produced state legislation, and federal judges are reluctant to overturn state statutes,” Tanford says. “A lot of them think that’s pushing the boundaries of what federal courts are supposed to do.”

Tanford says his clients are still deciding whether or not to appeal the ruling. He says if they do decide to appeal, the lawsuit will drag on for several more years.

“People should be shocked that the creating and running of a taxpayer public school is being done by an Evangelical religious organization,” Tanford says. “That we can’t get to the fundamental question just bothers me and it ought to bother everyone.”

Seven Oaks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

Seven Oaks opened in 2016, teaching students in kindergarten through eighth grade. School leaders hope to add grade levels as students get older until they reached a full K-12 program.