MA School Board Reverses Course, Will Allow Local Church to Open Private Religious School
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The Somerville, Massachusetts school committee has now approved the application of Vida Real Church, a largely Hispanic immigrant congregation, to open a religious private school known as the Real Life Learning Center ("RLLC").
As CBN News reported in March, the church first sought permission to open the school in September 2021, but members of the school committee voiced opposition to the church's religious beliefs.
Then, late last month, attorneys with the First Liberty Institute and the Massachusetts Family Institute urged Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper and the Somerville Public School Committee to allow RLLC to open, informing them that preventing the school from opening because of its religious beliefs was a violation of the law.
"We are absolutely thrilled the RLLC will be able to open," said Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. "It is good to see Somerville school officials finally treating Vida Real fairly and according to the law."
"We are grateful that Somerville officials recognized that the government cannot ban a religious school because they disagree with its religious beliefs," said Ryan Gardner, counsel for First Liberty Institute. "Because of the school board's decision, more families will be able to provide the education they desire for their children."
As CBN News reported, Vida Real had submitted a detailed application to open RLLC for the school committee's consideration in September 2021. However, as First Liberty Institute and Massachusetts Family Institute attorneys alleged, the committee imposed multiple roadblocks on the church's application, including multiple-month delays in considering the application and false accusations that RLLC's application was incomplete or otherwise incorrect.
The committee also sent church officials a list of 35 hostile questions about the school's proposed curriculum, including questioning whether RLLC could adequately provide instructions on various subjects because of its decision to teach its students in accordance with its religious beliefs. They challenged whether RLLC should be allowed to teach a faith-based curriculum at all, according to First Liberty.
In an emailed statement to CBN News on March 31, Superintendent Mary Skipper and School Committee Chair Andre Green said the committee had not yet reached a determination about the RLLC's application.
"The Somerville School Committee received a letter from attorneys for the Real Life Learning Center demanding approval of the RLLC's application for a private school in the City of Somerville. We disagree with the characterizations in that letter of the Committee's communications with the RLLC to date and of the appropriateness and lawfulness of the Committee's review of the RLLC application. The Committee has not yet reached a determination about the RLLC application, and all inquiries from the Committee have been for the purpose of evaluating whether RLLC meets the legal standards for approval," the statement said.
"We note that if a private school is approved, the Committee does not engage in ongoing oversight or monitoring of that school; as such, the Committee considers a thorough review process, including a critical evaluation of whether an applicant has proposed and is capable of actually implementing a program that meets state requirements, to be essential to the Committee's statutory obligations. It is incumbent upon an applicant to provide the necessary information to the Committee for this review, and if any issue is identified in an application which the applicant believes is based upon a religious teaching, for the applicant to explain the same," Skipper continued.
"The Somerville Public Schools does not discriminate on the basis of religion or any other protected class, and the Committee's review of the RLLC application has been and will continue to be fair, thorough, and consistent with the Committee's legal authority. The Committee will complete its review of the RLLC application in a timely manner and issue a determination on the merits of the application," she concluded.
Late on Monday, the committee finally approved the application.
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