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For more than 20 years, Chapel Field Christian School in Pine Bush, N.Y., has offered scholarships to kids from the inner cities, mostly blacks, as well as orphans from several African institutions, again mostly blacks.
Now it is being sued for “expelling” a student – who was accused by other students of sexual improprieties – because he is black.
The story of such faith under fire comes from school Headmaster William Spanjer, who is working with a law firm on the school’s defense against the accusations made by Gerald Cheers of Newburgh in a federal lawsuit.
According to the local Times Herald-Record, Cheers alleges his “expulsion” was because he is black.
Cheers’ mother filed the action, with the help of Goshen lawyer Michael Sussman, who has filed a series of actions against area schools over alleged civil rights violations.
The action alleges Cheers, 17, was subjected to “insulting and bigoted” remarks by unnamed members of the school staff, and “expelled.”
The action claims the school broke federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
Spanjer, however, told WND that the student never was expelled, he was placed on suspension after more than a dozen other students made allegations that he was making inappropriate sexual remarks and advances, and it was Cheers’ own mother who voluntarily withdrew him from the school in order to have him attend elsewhere.
The irony is that the school was founded with the goal of reaching out and offering a quality education to inner-city and foreign students, many of them black, and many of them who attended the private tuition-funded school on scholarships the school itself raised.
The parent ministry of the school, which has graduated 22 classes of seniors already, is called Affirmative Evangelism Fellowship, Spanjer said. “It’s about doing positive things to call people to God in Christ,” he said.
The beginnings included running summer camps for inner city children, when organizers discovered many of those students were failing in class.
“It never gets dark in the city,” he said. “The kids would be up all night.”
“My wife and I had a little property in New York state, and we opened the school in 1986,” he said.
As part of the continuing Christian outreach of the school, it started sponsoring food drives for orphanages in Africa, and has sent numerous containers of food to the continent.
A natural followup saw some of those children making the return trip to America to attend the new school, living in staff members’ homes, he said.
Then came the situation that prompted the lawsuit.
“One of our students was reported harassing female students. We looked into it, and 14 to 15 students, both male and female, were aware of the situation,” he told WND.
The local newspaper reported the student allegedly violated the school’s honor code by pointing out girls he wanted to have sex with, and boasting of his sexual exploits.
“I had to suspend this black student. We didn’t dismiss him. It was May. We said stay home and we’ll help you get your work done. But his mother then transferred him to a public school and brought the lawsuit against us for racial discrimination,” he said.
The student in a meeting with school officials denied any inappropriate behavior, although school officials confirm they later discovered problems he’d had at a previous school.
“The evidence from the students, the statements they’ve made are overwhelming that this actually did take place,” Spanjer said. He said he previously has expelled white students for similar behavior.
The case at this point is in the stage that the two sides are exchanging affidavits and statements, but he said the problem is that the legal defense will be costly for the school.
“It’s already approach about $5,000 to $8,000, and to get to the trial, it will be $30,000,” he said.
For a school where many teachers get paid only $17,000 or $18,000 for their services, that’s a great deal, he said.
“We do have a defense fund [at a local bank] and our attorneys have agreed to [give the school] a discount while trying to help out,” he said.
He said he believes the plaintiffs will be unable to prove any sort of discriminatory behavior, but just fighting the accusation could impact efforts to serve the 300 other students.
The tuition is only $4,000 for students in lower grades, and $5,000 for those in upper grades, he said.
“Our teachers view this as a ministry,” he said. “We support our local churches. All of the kids go to church regularly.”
He said the student in question was not expelled specifically because of the ministry’s goals of restoration and reinstatement. In this case, however, the parents refused to accept the situation, he said.
Should such a situation come up again, he would handle it the same way. “I had no choice but to remove him from the student body,” he said. Female students were in tears expressing their worry over the statements he’d made, he said. “I couldn’t permit that.”
He’s hoping a judge will agree with a request for dismissal of the case that his attorneys are preparing.
In the local media, others were coming to the school’s defense. “I went there [Chapel Field] for four years. I’m black, and I never heard a racist comment out of any of the teachers,” wrote one supporter.
The school’s own website outlines the strict rules students must follow, including a dress code for boys that does not allow “anything that is designed to draw special attention.”
For girls, no sleeveless shirts are allowed, even on “dress-down” days.
“Chapel Field is not just a school,” says its philosophy page. “It is a program. It is a program designed to have its students embrace six imperatives for living.” Those are academic discipline, extracurricular accomplishment, moral character and integrity, personal commitment to Christ and church, volunteerism, and faithful and modest lifestyle.
Students, to be part of the school, must agree to “tell the truth at all times and be respectful in word, manner and action to my parents and school staff” and following the behavior code both in and out of school.