D.C. pub­lic char­ter scraps plan to of­fer cour­ses from evan­gel­i­cal univer­sity

One class would have taught ‘bib­li­cal’ ap­proach to speech writ­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - THE DIS­TRICT BY ALEJANDRA MATOS alejandra.matos@wash­post.com

A D.C. pub­lic char­ter school net­work scrapped plans to award Lib­erty Univer­sity a con­tract to of­fer on­line cour­ses to high school stu­dents, in­clud­ing a class that would have taught them how to “ap­ply a bib­li­cal per­spec­tive” to speech writ­ing.

Friend­ship Pub­lic Char­ter School pub­lished a no­tice about the con­tract with the evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian univer­sity in a com­mu­nity news­pa­per and on its web­site in early Fe­bru­ary. But af­ter The Wash­ing­ton Post on Tues­day asked about the cour­ses the char­ter school planned to of­fer through the univer­sity, Friend­ship said it had nixed the plans al­to­gether.

In a state­ment re­leased Fri­day, Friend­ship spokes­woman Candice Burns said that af­ter they re­ceived and re­viewed the text­books and other ma­te­ri­als Tues­day, the char­ter sys­tem de­cided not to pro­ceed with the con­tract.

“It was not a fit for what we needed,” Burns said.

Char­ter schools have more au­ton­omy than tra­di­tional pub­lic schools to de­cide their cur­ricu­lum and whom they hire to pro­vide cour­ses. But the D.C. Pub­lic Char­ter School Board, which over­sees Friend­ship and other char­ters in the Dis­trict, says re­li­gious cur­ricu­lums can­not be of­fered or taught at char­ters.

“Pub­lic char­ter schools must fol­low the same le­gal re­quire­ments re­gard­ing re­li­gious in­struc­tion as tra­di­tional pub­lic schools,” the char­ter board states on its web­site.

The board did not re­spond to sev­eral re­quests for com­ment.

Many high schools across the coun­try part­ner with uni­ver­si­ties to of­fer cour­ses to stu­dents for col­lege credit. And pub­lic schools can of­fer col­lege cour­ses through pri­vate re­li­gious uni­ver­si­ties so long as the con­tent of the cour­ses is not based on re­li­gion, said Charles C. Haynes, vice pres­i­dent of the Re­li­gious Free­dom Cen­ter at the New­seum.

That was not the case in at least one of the cour­ses that Friend­ship wanted to of­fer its stu­dents.

The cour­ses un­der con­sid­er­a­tion were screen­writ­ing, graphic de­sign and speech. Ac­cord­ing to Lib­erty’s web­site, stu­dents en­rolled in the speech course learn a foun­da­tion for de­vel­op­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, in­clud­ing speak­ing be­fore au­di­ences and small groups, and in other con­ver­sa­tions.

It also states that the learn­ing out­comes for the course in­clude the abil­ity to “ap­ply a bib­li­cal per­spec­tive to top­ics such as the nat­u­ral world, hu­man iden­tity and re­la­tion­ships, and cul­ture and civ­i­liza­tion.”

The text­book used in the class is “Speech Com­mu­ni­ca­tion: A Re­demp­tive In­tro­duc­tion,” which the pub­lish­ing com­pany says “helps Chris­tian col­lege stu­dents de­velop a Bib­li­cal un­der­stand­ing of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and chal­lenges them to ap­ply it to their in­tended oc­cu­pa­tions in a way that makes a re­demp­tive dif­fer­ence in the world.”

The course ma­te­rial and de­scrip­tions on Lib­erty’s web­site for the graphic de­sign and screen­writ­ing cour­ses make no ref­er­ence to re­li­gion.

The char­ter net­work has asked Lib­erty to re­move its name as a part­ner school from its web­site.

Lib­erty Univer­sity did not re­spond to mul­ti­ple re­quests for com­ment.

Friend­ship is the sec­ond­largest char­ter sys­tem in the Dis­trict, with more than 4,200 stu­dents en­rolled at its 12 cam­puses dur­ing the 2015-2016 school year.

Burns said that as part of the early-col­lege pro­gram, stu­dents have taken cour­ses at the Univer­sity of the Dis­trict of Columbia, the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Har­vard Univer­sity and Ge­orge­town.

Friend­ship wanted to give its stu­dents more course op­tions, so the net­work was con­sid­er­ing “sev­eral on­line re­sources that of fer a rolling ad­mis­sions sched­ule . . . such as Lib­erty Univer­sity On­line,” Burns said.

“We are cur­rently ex­am­in­ing in­struc­tional ma­te­ri­als from sev­eral schools to de­ter­mine the best op­tions for our stu­dents,” she added.

The no­tice Friend­ship pub­lished in the com­mu­nity news­pa­per North­west Pas­sages stated that the char­ter sys­tem in­tended to en­ter into a sole-source $30,000 con­tract with Lib­erty. Burns said that “post­ing a pro­cure­ment no­tice does not ob­li­gate an or­ga­ni­za­tion. It is, how­ever, a nec­es­sary step in the pro­cure­ment process.”

Burns said the char­ter sys­tem con­sid­ered Lib­erty no dif­fer­ent from other re­li­gious-af­fil­i­ated schools such as Ge­orge­town or Trin­ity. But Haynes, with the Re­li­gious Free­dom Cen­ter, said that the dif­fer­ence is in the con­tent, and that Lib­erty of­ten in­fuses its cour­ses with re­li­gious teach­ings.

“I would be very sur­prised if there were many cour­ses at Lib­erty that were taught with­out a re­li­gious per­spec­tive,” Haynes said. “Any pub­lic school that looked at this would know that up­front. That’s not a hidden thing.”

Haynes com­mended Friend­ship for vet­ting the cur­ricu­lum be­fore of­fer­ing the cour­ses to its stu­dents.

“It would have been un­con­sti­tu­tional,” Haynes said. “It’s a good thing it was stopped.”

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