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Response of Seven Oaks

Classical School
to filing of lawsuit
Contact Terry L. English,

The federal court lawsuit filed last week which seeks to close Seven Oaks
Classical School in Ellettsville fails to address one critical question: why commence a
legal action now?
Seven Oaks Classical School, a charter school opened to the public, has been in
operation since September 6, 2016 at the 9-acre location it purchased last summer at
200 E. Association Street in Ellettsville and has spent over $2 million dollars in
borrowed taxpayer monies in building renovation and upgrade costs. The school has
hired 16 teachers, many of them with local roots, and has undertaken the education
and training of about 170 students in grades kindergarten through 8. A ninth grade
class will be added to the school offerings this fall. And, for nearly a year, the State of
Indiana, as it promised to do, has been making periodic payments to Seven Oaks
School for the tuition costs of its enrolled students.
Nearly a year of successful charter school operation on the part of Seven Oaks
School notwithstanding, a group calling itself the Indiana Coalition for Public
Education Monroe County and South Central Indiana, Inc. has filed a lawsuit in U.S.
District Court in Indianapolis against Seven Oaks and against Jennifer McCormick,
Indianas newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction and the chair of the
Indiana State Board of Education. The lawsuit also names James Bentley, the Director
of the Indiana Charter School Board as a defendant.
It can be surmised that the lawsuit was commenced by the local branch of the
Indiana Coalition, which calls itself the ICPE-MC, for two reasons: (1) The student
enrollment at Seven Oaks for the second year of the schools operation may well
double, thereby pulling additional students away from the school corporations in
Monroe County; and (2) the Indiana General Assembly, which has a stake in
perpetuating the charter school system in the state, has now adjourned and is not in
session to politically defend itself and its policies against the federal court attack. It
might be perceived that the ICPE-MC purposely waited until the legislature completed
its long 2017 session before filing the lawsuit.
The ICPE-MC includes among its members current teachers and employees of
the public schools in Monroe County and other taxpayers who feel aggrieved that the
state-wide charter school system even exists in the State of Indiana. Many of the
organizations members fought the charter application of Seven Oaks Classical School
at public hearings conducted over the past five years and waged aggressive and often
misleading campaigns against the school in the print, television and radio media and
on social media.
The lawsuit filed by the ICPE-MC once again makes the same tired arguments
which have been voiced by charter school opponents during public hearings and in the
media since 2012: The loss of basic tuition support [as new students migrate from the
Monroe County School Corporation and the Richland-Bean Blossom School to Seven
Oaks Classical School] will cause a reduction in the budgets of MCCSC and RBBSC,
which will result in laying off teachers and support staff, increasing some class sizes,
eliminating or raising the cost of participation in extra-curricular activities, and having
fewer resources available to classroom teachers, the lawsuit says.
These loss-of-funding arguments against Seven Oaks Classical Schools
continued operation are the same ones made unsuccessfully in 2001 when the
Indiana General Assembly first passed the charter school legislation in the first place.
The lawsuit emphasizes the enormity of the projected losses which the two
school corporations will likely suffer if a growing number of parents continue to choose
Seven Oaks over other local public schools. The suit fails to say that Seven Oaks
educates each student for the approximate sum of $6,100.00 that it receives from the
state annually. The MCCSC would spend about $13,000.00 to educate the very same
student and the RBBSC would spend $11,000.00. It is true that Seven Oaks does not
provide transportation for its pupils or participate in the National School Lunch
program. Financially, it cant. Seven Oaks Classical School is not flush in cash like the
MCCSC which has the statutory ability to ask the taxpayers every few years for sums
in addition to its state stipend and its ever-burgeoning share of funds collected
through real property taxation in the county.
The lawsuit also claims that allowing Seven Oaks Classical School to continue
to operate will have a harmful effect on education in Monroe County by increasing
student segregation by race, socioeconomic class and political views, reducing
classroom diversity and increasing the concentration in MCCSC and RBBSC of high-
need students who require the most resources and expenses to educate. Seven Oaks
Classical School is held to the same high standards of non-discrimination as other
public schools in Indiana and does not shunt its responsibility to make its educational
offerings available to all those students who come through its doors regardless of
background or needs.
The main thrust of the lawsuit centers around the ability of Grace College and
Seminary to continue to serve as the authorizer of Seven Oaks Classical School. The
Indiana Charter School Act authorizes Grace College to receive three percent of the
public tax money given to Seven Oaks Classical School in basic tuition support as an
administrative fee. The ICPE-MC says this payment set-up is wrong and violates both
the U.S. Constitution and the Indiana Constitution.
Again, why do the schools detractors raise this issue now? Seven Oaks
Classical School is the third school which Grace College has successfully chartered in
the State of Indiana over the past few years. A fourth school may be chartered by the
institution soon in Pike County, Indiana. In the prior process of chartering schools,
Grace Colleges integrity and ability to participate as a charter school authorizer under
Indiana law has never been challenged or even seriously questioned up to this point.
And, Grace College is not the only religious or theological institution in the state
capable of participating in the charter school approval process. I.C. 20-24-1-2.5 also
lists other not-for-profit schools in Indiana with religious ties as being eligible to serve
as charter school authorizers. They include, among other schools, Anderson
University, Holy Cross College, Indiana Wesleyan University, St. Mary of the Woods
College, Saint Josephs College, Trine University, the University of Notre Dame, and
the University of Saint Francis.
If Grace College is struck down by the federal court as an authorizer, then the
schools it already has under supervision in Indiana will likely have to close and the
charter school program in Indiana which has long served as a model for other states
will be thrown into chaos.
The teachers, administrators, and employees of the school systems in Monroe
County dont want to compete for students by espousing the excellence of their
programs. They would rather seek intervention from the court when their entreaties to
the legislature have gone unheeded and their support with the public has begun to