April 12, 2019

The Government Is Threatening a Christian School That Serves Children with Learning Disabilities

Sarah Kramer

Crosspoint Church in Florida wasn’t anticipating starting a school.

But in 2013, a woman who was attending the church approached the pastor, Reverend Michael Lindsey, with a donation and a request. She wanted to do something to serve children in the community. Within weeks, the church launched a summer care program, advertising it at local elementary schools.

It was a hit.

Around 50 kids signed up for the first week. Soon, parents were approaching Rev. Lindsey. They felt their kids weren’t thriving in public schools and were looking for another option.

By mid-July, the church was ready to launch Englewood Christian School and open it to students that fall.

“Everything fell into place,” Rev. Lindsey said. “We felt the Lord was behind it.”

And the Lord has sustained and grown the school. What started in the 2013-14 school year with 15 students has grown to 52 students today.

What makes Englewood Christian School special is that it focuses on individualized learning and offers the flexibility to tailor the learning environment to the needs of its students. Many of the students are facing a learning disability of some kind and have fallen behind in the public school system.

But now Sarasota County is standing in the way of this school’s good work. In 2016, the county informed the church that it needed a special permit in order to operate. And when it applied for that special permit, it was denied.

That was startling news. Englewood Christian School had every reason to believe that its application would be approved – especially considering that charter schools in Florida are permitted to operate in any church. But, apparently, religious schools like Englewood Christian School don’t get the same treatment.

That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Crosspoint Church and Englewood Christian School – to protect the students they serve.

This school is a benefit to the church and the surrounding community. In particular, the students have thrived at Englewood Christian School. But don’t take my word for it. Just read these stories of transformation.

  1. A seventh grade boy came to Englewood Christian School from a public school, where he had been tested and placed in a resource room. There, because he was older, he became the teacher’s helper. He had not been able to advance past a third grade reading level. At Englewood, his reading level advanced two years in his first year. The next year, he was fully caught up. He will be graduating on time with a regular diploma.
  2. An eighth grade boy who was severely withdrawn and is on medication that makes him sleepy started attending Englewood Christian School. He hadn’t been speaking or interacting with anyone at the public schools. Englewood Christian School, however, is able to accommodate his schedule. He can take breaks during the day when his medication makes him tired. And in-class activities and one-on-one time with teachers have helped him to open up. Now, he is an active contributor in class, and he interacts with the other students.
  3. A female student on the autism spectrum came to the school lagging four grades behind. With the help of the teachers, she has successfully caught up to the grade she should be in.

Those are just a few of the success stories that have come from Englewood Christian School. But if the county is permitted to continue treating religious schools worse than secular schools, these kids and their families will lose.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a county has tried to use local zoning codes to target churches and religious schools.

In fact, ADF has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case on behalf of a school in Ohio, Tree of Life Christian School. There, city officials have used zoning codes to block Tree of Life from using a building that it bought in order to consolidate its four campuses and expand.

The good news for both Englewood Christian School and Tree of Life Christian School is that federal law prohibits the government from using its zoning codes to single out religious institutions and treat them worse than everyone else. Not to mention that the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that the government cannot treat religious organizations and individuals as second-class citizens.

But that is exactly what is happening in Sarasota County, Florida – all at the expense of the children and families that Englewood Christian School serves.


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