No action yet on Mesa schoolbook flap - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

No action yet on Mesa schoolbook flap

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Posted: Saturday, August 2, 2014 8:15 am

The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools said it will not revoke the charter of a Mesa school based on the evidence received thus far.

Heritage Academy is under fire from a Washington D.C.-based activist group for its supposed use of sectarian textbooks and teachings. The group has sent requests to the school and the state board asking that the textbooks be suspended from the school’s curriculum or that ASBCS revoke the school’s charter.

Heritage Academy’s use of history-focused texts “The 5,000 Year Leap” and “The Making of America” is allegedly “teaching religion as fact,” according to the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The group claims it is against the law as well as the terms of the school’s charter, and therefore constitutes a basis for revoking that charter should Heritage Academy refuse to discontinue use of the texts.

A sample charter available on the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools (ASBCS) website states, “The Charter Holder shall be nonsectarian in its charter school programs, admission policies and employment practices and all other operations.”

However, the deadline Americans United asked for has passed and Deanna Rowe, executive director of ASBCS, made no indication the state board will revoke the school’s charter at the present time. She said both ASBCS and the school are working to satisfy Americans United’s records request for information related to the use of the texts.

“The complainant has provided some examples of content … they have not provided any evidence that the school utilized that content in a manner that violates the law,” said Rowe.

Until that evidence is provided, she said, ASBCS has no plans for revoking Heritage Academy’s charter.

There appears to be some question of whether religious texts can be used as reference materials in curriculum focused on teaching other topics besides religion. Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United, said as much but added that the group is certain that the texts in question are not being used solely in this manner.

“I suppose you could use a textbook like this if you were studying different kinds of textbooks,” said Luchenitser, addressing whether the books could be used simply as reference for other lines of study. “If you look at the books, that’s not what the books do. The books present religion as truth.”

Luchenitser said the basis for the complaint Americans United received from a local community member is simple — that the school is allegedly teaching religion, something charter schools, which receive tax funding from the state, are not allowed to do.

For now, it appears that there will be no action until the records request is met and Americans United responds with a claim based on the information it receives. The group has been clear that it is considering litigation if ASBCS does not ultimately take action as it requests.

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