Charter School Faces Suit for Religious Discrimination
Riverside, CA—A new lawsuit has been filed in Riverside Superior Court on behalf of a piano teacher who was rejected by a charter school for religious reasons.
Dimitra Solomos has been teaching children piano for more than 25 years in Orange and Riverside Counties. In 2016, when a teacher and families enrolled through Sky Mountain Charter School asked her to become an approved vendor of the school, she completed a background check, got a business license and complied with the other application requirements. Becoming a vendor would allow families to use extracurricular funds to pay for her piano lessons, which some families had been doing out-of-pocket because they felt she was an excellent teacher.
Solomos was initially told by the charter school’s management company that her application had been approved. But when they told her there was a prohibition on teaching religious music, she got curious. She asked about old spirituals and “Amazing Grace,” which are in many piano method books. She was told she should tear out such songs or cover them over. Solomos noted that great composers like J.S. Bach composed religious music and even signed his works to the glory of God.
The next thing Solomos knew, the charter school had changed its initial approval to a denial of her application. In a follow-up conversation with a Director, she was told that her Christmas recitals and offering of instruction in classical, jazz, blues and gospel were problematic. Also cited as a reason for the denial was the longtime name of Solomos’ studio, “His Song Piano,” which was deemed too religious.
Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is representing Solomos. PJI attorneys Michael Peffer and Matthew McReynolds filed suit seeking damages, declaratory and injunctive relief on federal and state constitutional claims; state civil rights claims; and a federal conspiracy to violate constitutional rights claims.
Brad Dacus, president of PJI, commented, “It is outrageous that this charter school would suggest tearing out old spirituals and “Amazing Grace,” from piano books, and then deny this highly qualified teacher’s application for questioning such a directive. Cases and statutes have long recognized the vital role that religious music has played in the history of Western Civilization. We are eager to vindicate our client’s rights to be treated equally and restore sanity to Sky Mountain Charter School.”