Homeschooling Parents Sue California Officials for Alleged Discrimination Over Faith-Based Curriculum

Homeschooling Parents Sue California Officials for Alleged Discrimination Over Faith-Based Curriculum

California State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond holds a book during a news conference at Nystrom Elementary School in Richmond, Calif., on May 17, 2022. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Micaela Ricaforte

Micaela Ricaforte

10/26/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

A group of parents are suing California’s superintendent of schools and several local officials for alleged religious discrimination after they were banned from using faith-based curriculum in a publicly-funded homeschool charter program.
The law firm First Liberty filed a complaint Oct. 12 on behalf of five parents whose children attended public charter schools offering families the option for an at-home “independent study” program, which provides parents with funds to choose their own curriculum and educational materials.
The complaint alleges that parents—John and Breanna Woolard, Hector and Diana Gonzales, and Carrie Dodson—who wanted to select faith-based curriculum under the program were denied by their respective schools. The Dodson family, according to the filing, was additionally expelled from their charter school because of the issue.
Under the programs, charter school teachers meet regularly with families to go over the at-home instruction plan and collect samples of their children’s work to measure progress.
The families claim in their lawsuit that the schools never specified in program materials that religious-based curricula was off-limits.
“Even if the work sample meets all ... the basic requirements, however, the work sample is deemed ‘acceptable’ only if it is ‘nonsectarian (non-religious)’. Again, the handbook does not set forth any other restrictions on the ideological content of work samples,” according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs claim the schools’ actions violate their rights to free speech and free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.
“Our clients simply want to be able to choose curricula that fits their families’ needs without facing religious discrimination,” said Justin Butterfield, attorney for the families, in a statement. “These families love their charter schools and the opportunities those schools provide for families to educate their children in a way that fits the families’ needs.”
A kindergarten student does schoolwork at her home in a file photo in San Anselmo, Calif., on March 18, 2020. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

A kindergarten student does schoolwork at her home in a file photo in San Anselmo, Calif., on March 18, 2020. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The schools involved are Blue Ridge Academy in Southern California and Visions of Education in Northern California. Officials at both schools and their respective districts, as well as California’s Superintendent of Public Schools Tony Thurmond, are all listed as defendants in the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, in summer 2022, the Woolards were denied by their charter teacher at Blue Ridge when they asked to purchase religious works of Jonathan Edwards and William Penn as supplemental materials in their daughters’ study of colonial America.
Mr. Woolard argued that many important colonial American figures were “deeply religious,” and that to study them was to study their works.
However, officials at Blue Ridge denied the request, citing a state law that prohibits the teaching of “sectarian and denominational doctrine,” according to the complaint.
Additionally, the Woolards, along with the Gonzalez family, were also told by Blue Ridge that they couldn’t use a multi-subject curriculum from Bob Jones University because of its “worldview-shaping” and “religious aspects,” though their teacher indicated the curriculum’s academics “were fine,” according to the complaint.
Meanwhile, Ms. Dodson, the lawsuit says, elected to use “The Good and the Beautiful” curriculum, a multi-subject instructional homeschool material that seeks to help families “find beauty, joy, and powerful academics,” for her son to use under Visions of Education’s independent study program in the 2022-23 school year.
Visions officials refused to approve the curriculum and to accept work samples from it over its religious content, the suit reads.
Ms. Dodson continued to meet with the schools’ officials and to provide samples of her son’s work with the curriculum, asking officials what content was considered objectionable.
In January, Visions’ principal sent a letter informing Ms. Dodson of her son’s disenrollment from the charter school, according to the suit.
The plaintiffs are requesting the court reverse the schools’ policy banning faith-based curriculum and banning school officials from enforcing the policy. They’re also requesting defendants cover plaintiffs’ legal fees.
A spokesperson for Visions of Education told The Epoch Times in a statement that the school is committed to ensuring it “[follows] the California Constitution, state laws, and state education regulations.”
“As the plaintiffs themselves acknowledge, the California Constitution and subsequent state laws and regulations prevent public money from being used to purchase religious curriculum or its use for credit or attendance purposes,” the spokesperson said. “These are issues that courts and legislatures around the country have been considering recently and we believe these are the appropriate venues for debate and conversation on this important topic.”
A representative for Blue Ridge Academy was not immediately available for comment.
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Micaela Ricaforte

Micaela Ricaforte

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Micaela Ricaforte covers education in Southern California for The Epoch Times. In addition to writing, she is passionate about music, books, and coffee.

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