Religion and Charter Schools – The Impact of the TiZA Case on All Charter Schools
Eugene Piccolo, Executive Director - MN Association of Charter Schools
As you know, the ACLU vs TiZA case has raised a number of first amendment questions that have already been or are still being litigated in federal district court, even though the school is now closed.
As is often the case, the ongoing impact and effect of a specific situation becomes the legacy that other organizations and individuals not part of the original situation have to carry on going forward.
The case involving TiZA is no different in this regard.
1] One impact of the ACLU vs TiZA case can be found in the agreement reached earlier this year between the ACLU and MDE, which will require all charter schools and authorizers to annually provide a number of assurances related to the first amendment’s prohibition of the establishment clause related to religion.
MDE will be sending out materials to all charter schools about these new assurances very shortly.
2] The second impact of this agreement is that all charter school boards will need to adopt a series of policies that make it clear that the school will follow and comply with the first amendment of the U.S. consitution.
MACS is developing sample policies for charter schools on first amendment issues.
The MN Association of Charter Schools is working with a law firm to develop sample policies for charter school boards to address the policy issues with which schools must comply under the agreement between the ACLU and MDE. The policies are expected to be available very shortly and will be available to all charter schools (whether or not they are MACS members) for a small fee, which will cover the legal costs of development.
The TiZA case serves as a reminder that charter school boards, administrators, teachers and parents need to be educated on an ongoing basis about the first amendment and how the provisions of the amendment - in particular, religion and free speech - play out in public schools, no matter if they are traditional districts or charter schools.
To assist charter schools in educating all members of their school communities about first amendment issues, we bring to your attention the following:
MACS Policy Statement on Public Charter Schools and Religion
In April 2008, the MN Association of Charter Schools Board of Directors approved a Policy Statement on Public Charter Schools & Religion, which clearly laid out our expectations for charter schools relative to the establishment clause of the first amendment.
Resource Documents from the First Amendment Center
The Government Affairs section of our website provides links to a number of specific resources.
We urge every charter school board and every school director to put the topic of religion and public schools on the agenda of board meetings and faculty meetings, and to utilize these documents and resources as the basis of educating your school community.
Finally, it should be noted that the question of the appropriate lines between religion and public schools is one that did not begin with the TiZA case; it has been an issue since the founding of public schools in the 1800s and will probably continue to be a question in the future.
While there will probably continue to be questions about the appropriate lines, every public school - especially charters in our political environment - need to be ensure that the school community knows and understands the lines between religion and public schools under the constitution and the laws of the land.