FFRF applauds move against Florida charter school

The Freedom From Religion Foundation welcomes the recent decision of a Florida school board to issue a notice to a charter school.

FFRF had warned the Duval County School Board in January that the Seacoast Charter Academy seemed like a thinly disguised religious establishment.

The institution, which was run as part of a private Christian school for almost 20 years by Bob and Connie Cenac, became a kindergarten-fifth grade charter entity in 2011 for financial reasons. Seacoast Charter Academy retains the same administrator and some of the same teachers. It rents property from a Cenac-owned company with decisions made by a Cenac-controlled board. Bob and Connie Cenac’s daughter, Marla Stremmel, has been the administrator of both schools.

There was also a reported state/church violation in the school. Seacoast Charter Academy hosted a Veterans Day program inside Seacoast Christian Academy’s auditorium. This auditorium, which features a large Latin cross at center stage and lots of religious iconography, is used for Seacoast Christian Academy’s chapel services, so it serves the same role as a church.

Utilizing a chapel for public school programming is inappropriate and unconstitutional. Public schools must remain neutral with regard to religion. It is a fundamental principle of jurisprudence that a public school may not advance, prefer or promote religion.

In a Jan. 22 letter to members of the Duval County School Board and School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel had asked that the school district look into the violation and also “ensure that there are no other constitutional violations occurring and that all staff and faculty understand their responsibilities in a secular charter school.”

Vitti responded in early February.

“District staff visited both sites (charter school and private school) to determine the validity of your claim,” he wrote on Feb. 3. “A district default notice has been delivered to the charter school. In addition, the district will further review the concerns while evaluating the charter school for potential contract renewal.” The default notice warns that “continued defaults may jeopardize the contract, or any future renewals” of the charter.

“We’re pleased the school district investigated and issued the default,” said Seidel. “Both the district and FFRF will continue to monitor these schools.”

FFRF has a national enrollment of 23,000 nonreligious members, including more than 1,000 individuals in Florida.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend