City approves church's private school after allegations of stonewalling over religious beliefs

Bible on a school desk in a classroom.
Bible on a school desk in a classroom. | Getty Images

A Massachusetts school district accused of previously stonewalling the creation of a church-affiliated private school over its Christian worldview has agreed to allow the school to open.

The School Committee of Somerville Public Schools approved the creation of the Real Life Learning Center at its regular meeting, which was held virtually on Monday evening.

The private school is a project of Vida Real Church, a congregation largely made up of Hispanic immigrants, which accused the committee of stalling the school's application.

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Last month, the First Liberty Institute and the Massachusetts Family Institute sent a letter of concern claiming that the school district was going to reject the application because committee officials disliked the church’s beliefs. 

“We are grateful that Somerville officials recognized that the government cannot ban a religious school because they disagree with its religious beliefs,” said First Liberty attorney Ryan Gardner in a statement Wednesday.

“Because of the school board’s decision, more families will be able to provide the education they desire for their children.”

During a reported Zoom meeting, at least one Somerville official worried that rejecting the church’s application to launch a private school would to legal action.  

“I think it’s hard to have to vote for a school that has so many values that I don’t agree with, but I see the law is what it is in this case,” committee member Ilana Krepchin was quoted as saying in a release from the Massachusets Family Institute. “I don’t see we have much of an option, and I just have to say this whole process seems a bit nutty.”

In late March, First Liberty and Massachusets Family Institute sent their complaint letter to Superintendent Mary E. Skipper and Mayor Katjana Ballantyne.

“Despite Vida Real’s expressed desire to open RLLC as quickly as possible, the Committee has repeatedly stonewalled Vida Real’s efforts to provide private, religious education for its community for over five months now,” claimed the letter.

“Even more concerning, the Committee has expressed hostility towards Vida Real’s religious beliefs, and multiple Committee members have stated that RLLC’s desire to create a curriculum consistent with its religious beliefs is grounds for denying its private school application.”

Somerville officials denied any wrongdoing. A statement from Superintendent Skipper and School Committee Chair Andre Green was emailed to The Christian Post earlier this month.

“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 read.

“[I]f 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.”

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