NYC Charter Schools Must Obey Constitution, Says AU

If Catholic schools in New York City are converted into public charter schools, they must drop their religious character, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Fourteen Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens are scheduled to close this year, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he hopes to save at least some of these schools by leasing the buildings and opening public charter schools in them.  

Americans United’s legal department sent a letter to city officials and Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio to remind them of constitutional requirements that must be met.  

In its Feb. 17 letter, AU said prayer could not be incorporated into the school’s instruction or activities, curricula could not be tailored to the tenets of Catholicism, religious symbols must be covered or removed both inside and outside and schools cannot give preferential after-school access to religious groups over nonreligious groups.  

“It’s imperative that city officials meet these constitutional requirements if this proposal goes through,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Charter schools, just like other public schools, must comply with the Constitution.”  

Last year, Washington, D.C., turned seven Catholic schools into charter schools. According to a recent New York Times article, those schools are complying with constitutional mandates.