The comparison is insulting. It ignores the fact that more than 85 percent of our students, who are preschool through eighth grade, are racial or ethnic minorities; between them, they represent more than 40 nations from around the world. Several come from lower-income families, who send their children to Bethel because their parents want the best possible education for their children and prefer for them to learn in a Christian environment.
That “Christian environment” seems to be the sticking point for state officials.
For years, our students and their families have benefited from a school voucher program called BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today). Last year, Bethel students made the most of the opportunity those funds provided and achieved standardized test scores that were higher than the regional and national averages.
These are largely minority children, studying in a safe, nurturing environment that produces incredible academic success. Isn’t that the very definition of “Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today”? Why are we being condemned and punished for using state money in exactly the way this program intended?
Apparently, it’s because Maryland officials would rather see these families deprived of this incredible opportunity if it occurs in a Christian environment.
After two years of investing BOOST funds in Bethel students, the state learned that our handbook stated our belief that marriage is designed to be the union of one man and one woman. State officials then banished us from the voucher program — leaving many parents without crucial financial support less than a month before the new school year — and have demanded that we repay more than $100,000 in BOOST funds our students received in those two years.
The parents of Bethel students — unlike state officials and many of those reporting on our situation — understand what our school is all about. They know we don’t turn away any student based on sexual identification or gender identity. We don’t require any student to agree with our policies, which say that sexual conduct, comments and harassment have no place in a loving, respectful learning environment. (Plus, in Maryland, sexual conduct is illegal for children younger than 16, anyway.)
Maryland officials previously gave us access to BOOST funds and expressed nothing but satisfaction with our staff, programs and curriculum. Nothing has changed, except that those officials chose to frame our religious convictions as discriminatory. Nothing in our history, our teachers’ conduct or the experience of the families we serve justifies that accusation.
These officials are punishing us for adhering to our principles, even as they celebrate their own, different views. But unlike Bethel, these officials are imposing their views on others and denying financially challenged students a quality education at the school of their choice.
So, we filed a lawsuit against the state. We have asked that Bethel be reinstated in the BOOST program and that the state’s demand for a six-figure penalty from a small, church-sponsored school be rejected.
Although we don’t know when the case will be decided, we are hopeful for a positive outcome. Meanwhile, it is very wrong for anyone to present us as anything other than what we are: a very diverse school, proud of our gifted, caring teachers and of the outstanding academic achievements our children have accomplished.