Attorneys representing a private Christian school in Ventura, California say district board members are attempting to shut down the school for religious reasons. The school is now fighting a property battle that comes after the district tried to get the school to agree to hire teachers who don't share their Christian beliefs.
Three days before Ventura County Christian School (VCCS) was due to open its doors for the school year, staff members received notification from Ventura Unified School District that its century-old property was deemed unsafe and that its lease was terminated.
The school was forced to vacate the premises and postpone opening for one week.
According to a statement sent to CBN News, the school's lease was terminated because of a report that said there were alleged "structural issues in one building that made the entire school unsafe for students and faculty."
"The report doesn't even say that the building is unsafe for occupation," Dr. Perry Geue, a school administrator, told CBN News. "They're asking us to leave without a strong basis for that. We think it's because we're a private Christian [school]."
But Bamieh & De Smeth Law Corporation points out that the same engineering firm that condemned the building and was hired by the district, had deemed the school safe in 2021.
"We're not going anywhere. The school is safe, and always has been safe," said Ron Bamieh, one of the lawyers representing VCCS.
Ventura Christian School has been leasing the historic Washington School building for 20 years and has spent nearly $3 million in upgrades and repairs.
During a press conference, Bamieh said an independent structural engineer, hired by VCCS, issued a report saying it was "incredibly safe" for the next 15 years.
"The issue is with Ventura Unified District who believes either this school does not have a right to exist and worship as they see fit or because they have a huge dis-enrollment problem and they want to get 200 extra heads in their school," he explained.
VCCS has rented the property owned by the district and has been negotiating terms for the lease agreement over the past year.
The Christian school already agreed to pay a 300 percent increase in rent, but stop short of honoring a clause added by the district that would keep them from hiring teachers that share their Christian faith.
"We love to teach students about the Christian life, and math, and English, and science and history, and we want to do it with excellence," Geue said during a press conference. "We believe we have the right to honor God, worship Him, and teach the kids how to honor God, and honor each other."
"It's a school that has God's presence here, you can feel it, but you can [also] see it expressed in the kids," Principal Tanja Geue told CBN News.
Attorneys representing the school claim district board members have taken a hostile view of Christian education, despite agreeing to the lease and accepting two months' payment from the school.
"We have attempted to understand their reasoning and initially assumed their motivation was financial or because they had other plans for the property," said Bamieh in a statement. "Unfortunately, VUSD's motivation appears more nefarious. Their attempts to bully the administrators of VCCS must now end. If not, we will ask the court to intervene."
"This is a place where [children] can go and learn not only about reading and writing, but they can learn about Jesus," Bamieh said. "[Parents] have the right to educate their kids, the way they see fit."
VUSD Superintendent Antonio Castro released a statement regarding the closure, stating that a report by 19six Architects and Engineer followed multiple months of study and indicated that the property exhibited unsafe conditions.
"We cannot and will not compromise the safety of students, families, community members or staff members, whether they are in a building or property owned by the District, or leased by the District to another entity," he said.
Castro added district staff offered to help the school find alternative locations.
Principal Geue told CBN News that if VCCS and the school district don't come to a resolution, they will take it to court.
"As a school board leadership team, we have been seeking the Lord for His guidance, every step of this process," she explained. "We're standing up because they would like us to go away."
"You don't think this is going to happen to you," Principal Geue added. "You don't think you are going to be the one standing up, but then you realize it's the right thing to do. It's for the children."
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