Board affirms closure of Idaho charter school

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 18, 2010

On top of Bible dispute, school had money woes

BOISE – The state Board of Education is upholding the closure of a charter school that had been tangled in a debate over classroom use of the Bible and is now being shuttered over money problems.

The board further considered an appeal Tuesday from Nampa Classical Academy administrators, who vowed to shed their combative reputation and work with the state to stay open.

The Idaho Public Charter School Commission decided earlier this year to close the academy, which opened last year and had more than 500 students enrolled for this fall.

The charter school appealed that decision to the board, which voted 4-3 to uphold the revocation despite a warning from public schools chief Tom Luna, who cautioned their actions would have severe ramifications for hundreds of students.

“We’re talking about doing something that is maybe one of the most difficult and important decisions that this board will make and that is actually closing down a school,” said Luna, who was among three board members who voted against the measure.

A majority of the students who attend the academy are from middle- to low-income families, said Mike Moffett, vice chairman of Nampa Classical Academy’s governing board.

“That’s the hardest part about this whole thing,” Moffett said after the board voted, holding back tears. “Most of those kids have lost their only opportunity to have this type of education.”

While other Idaho charter schools have been closed, this is the first to have its charter revoked by the state’s 6-year-old charter school commission. The panel was created to give charter schools another route to approval besides the local school district, and now governs about half of the charter schools in the state.

These schools are funded with public money but given more freedom in how they operate.

The movement to create more autonomous public schools allowed the Nampa school to establish a curriculum education grounded in grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. The school also wanted to use the Bible and other religious texts for their literary and historic qualities, as part of a secular education program.

The plan, however, prompted the charter school commission to review use of religious texts.

The U.S. Supreme Court banned ceremonial school Bible readings in 1963 but said “the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities” so long as material is “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.”

But the charter school commission concluded last August that the academy could not use the Bible, adopting a state deputy attorney general’s opinion that found the Idaho constitution “expressly” limits use of religious texts.

While school administrators have complained they’ve been unfairly targeted because of their differences with the state over use of the Bible, the commission insisted the academy’s money troubles were to blame.

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