In an unusual land-use decision that bowed to public concerns over firearms and economic activity, the Flagler Beach City Commission on Thursday rejected a church’s request to run a non-traditional parochial one-room school on South 6th Street, between South Central and South Daytona avenues.
The decision will prevent the 15-year-old Coastal Community Church from opening a private, Christian school that would have enrolled 15 students, all of them to be taught by two teachers in the same room. (The church is still officially registered as Coastal Community Church, as its papers to the city indicate. It renamed itself Coastal Family Church in the public’s eye.)
“All our students are screened, so it’s not anyone can come, we try to fit our students best to the education that we can provide them but also how they would fit with inside of our classroom,” Rev. Jonathan Rogers, principal at the school, said. No one would be bused. Breakfast and lunch would not be provided.
Numerous churches and other religious organizations have set up such schools, often to take advantage of Florida’s vastly expanded voucher program that diverts public funds to private and parochial schools, at taxpayers’ expense. The schools don’t have to follow state standards nor submit to public education standards. Some of the private schools exceed the standards. Some do not. But there is little accountability. The unregulated system enables some schools to be more financially profitable to those who run them than intellectually beneficial to those who attend them.
Coastal’s school is licensed for first through 12th grade, its director said. But it wasn’t clear if enrollment would be limited to grades 1 through 7, as proposed in the documentation provided by the city, or through grade 12, as suggested by Rogers at the meeting. The principal did not explain how all grades would be appropriately taught in the same schoolroom, though he wasn’t required to. The city had no say in those matters. It could only rule on whether the land use complied with the city’s rules.
It was a divided vote, 3-2, with Commissioner Ken Bryan, Rick Belhumeur and Eric Cooley in the majority. Bryan cited issues with the school pre-empting the possibility of wine bars or other businesses that serve or sell alcohol from opening in the vicinity.
There were vaguer concerns about firearms, now that state law allows the carrying of concealed weapons in any church or church property, including schools located on those properties–a direct contradiction with state law, which forbids weapons on school campuses. And there were a dozen letters from. nearby residents who raised other issues such as parking, noise and turning a one-year exception into a permanent feature of the neighborhood. Many of those residents addressed the commission. Thursday evening.
A property owner has three properties within 500 feet of the church. He’s had no issues with the coffee shop or the church. “I don’t want people sitting in the parking lot waiting for the school to open with the cars running or their kids running around the parking lot, making a lot of noise,” the property owner said. “You know what happened to me one time? I lived in an apartment. My car alarm went off and I went outside there. There was a 6 year old that threw a rock and landed right on top of my car. $1,000 later I was done, OK? They’re small, but they can do a lot of damage.” He said he wanted to make sure the school was “run properly.” He also favored gating the school property.
A South Central Avenue resident was concerned about the accumulation of special exceptions that are attaching to the property, since those special exceptions can become permanent allowances on the specific property even when it changes hands. In a medium density residential neighborhood, that worries her.
The city received a dozen letters of concerns from residents. “Keep in mind that in our area, the Flagler Sea Cottages,” one resident told commissioners, “we’ve had a lot of really bad experiences with these special exceptions. They’ve not worked in our favor and they seem to be endangering the quality of our life.” She added, with a degree of hyperbole: “When I see this application, in my mind, I’m seeing a miniature Old Kings Elementary School vision and a special exception slippery slope nightmare in my future.” Old Kings Elementary, the public school, has an enrollment of over 1,000 students and sprawls over several acres.
Another resident raised a more directly pertinent issue: if a school were to open in the area, opening certain businesses would be prohibited within a given distance–smoke shop, wine bar or an alcohol. That resonated with Bryan.
The church property has a coffee shop as well. Bryan was concerned about the new provision in state law that allows people to carry concealed weapons onto the property, simply because it is part of a church. “You can conceal carry in the church,” City Attorney Drew Smith said, “and one of their points of debate was, well, if you’re carrying in the church but a lot churches have schools. How do we resolve that? They did not resolve that. But this is not the only circumstance this conflict comes up. Nor the only jurisdiction.”
The city’s planning board had recommended approval of the school in a 5-2 vote, with a set of conditions, some of them proposed by the church. There was a debate over how long those special exceptions would be in effect. “We do not have ability as the city to compel or required someone to put a limit on the duration of the special exception,” Smith said. “However, if an applicant volunteers a limitation on the duration of the special exception, you can accept that. You can then make it a condition of approval based on the fact that it was a volunteered limit.”
Commissioner Jane Mealy motioned to approve the request with exceptions that would be in effect now through the end of June 2022, renewable yearly after that. Enrollment would be limited to 15 students, parking spaces would be limited to two in front of the building. The city would have no say regarding grades and eating facilities.
Mealy had the mayor’s support. “The church has been there for 14 years,” Mayor Suzie Johnston said. “And for 14 years they’ve been good neighbors within our community and have improved to building. They brought a business which has been an asset to our community and it would be nice to see a chance given to a school to see how it can enhance our community.” (The church moved its “principal place of business,” as the state’s Division of Corporations records it, from 6 Post Lane in Palm Coast to 206 South 6th in Flagler Beach in 2009. The church’s five directors are all Palm Coast or Bunnell residents.)
But the mayor doesn’t have a vote in the matter. Mealy’s motion failed. She was joined only by Commissioner Deborah Phillips. Bryan then made a motion to deny the application, a motion that lined up the same votes.
The dude says
So basically they just wanted to open up a daycare for zealots and use taxpayer funds to run it while creating new orange cultists 15 at a time?
I do not live in the area, but tax payers money. Local taxes or state taxes? I am sure they are state taxes. If that is the case I can only imagine what students get to go there. Another concern one room, no lunch or breakfast. Dont follow state standards, but get tax $,s. I fund it to be interesting.
We REALLY tried. So my question, “Are bars and alcohol related businesses more important than a VERY small school that was requested by this very community to facilitate children that don’t do well or choose not to be in a large school environment?” ADDED – this was not going to be a profit making business but a cover costs and expenses service! Another fact – a PRIVATE school does not affect anyone’s taxes! Of course the children get a lunch and snack break – they just bring their ow lunch and snacks. Thank you for the 2 voters who fought so hard on our behalf. God has something bigger and better.
“ The unregulated system enables some schools to be more financially profitable to those who run them than intellectually beneficial to those who attend them.”
This is the key point. Who benefits from these unregulated schools with no standards? Obviously they don’t care about education. So what’s the goal? Getting government money with no accountability. Sounds like another Florida scam to me.
The dude says
It ain’t just Florida where this kind of thing goes on.
Debi Gilkey says
We sure wouldn’t want to prohibit, bars, smoke shops etc.! God Bless the ones that spoke up for this proposed Christian school! God knows the hearts and reasons behind these negative response. I forgot it’s all about the money and not teaching about integrity and the 10 commandments! Selah!
Thank you so much for your encouragement
Beach Girl says
Debi – that’s not the point. I’m a believer but this is completely unnecessary here and also prohibits REAL business from existing in our small town. I am an actual resident of Flagler Beach unlike most commenters on this site. I’d MUCH rather have a booming local economy (Flagler Beach has become a tourist destination, like it or not) than have it eaten up by a “school” (give me a break) full of zealot nuts offering nothing but drop off jams and not much else.
Sometimes it IS about the money and while that may be unpopular with your ilk, it is the reality of any strong community. I’ve lived here long enough and paid enough in taxes to be tired of our city being used and abused on the backs of local tax payers.
Mealy seems to say yes to anything and needs to retire. Just my opinion.
Some of the comments above, though nasty, may be correct in their statements. However the reason the commissioners gave was because it might inhibit business that sell alcohol to open in this area. I think we have plenty of places that sell alcohol as well as plenty of drunks getting behind the wheel of cars.
That sounds great, maybe if you owned the property that’s just been reduced in value you might feel differently. One persons property should not limit the value or uses of anothers… but its easy to arm chair quarterback when you support only one side..
Lawrence Bell says
Thanks to the Flagler Beach commission for making a brilliant decision to keep this tax free scam out of our City.
Maybe you guys need to update your thinking. Because One Room School Houses are becoming very popular. There’s a country singer outside of Nashville who open a One Room School House on his farm for his daughter and other children to attend.
Elon Musk opened a similar school and he believes that the older kids help the younger children in school and studies. Parents are fed up with the public school system which has gone haywire due to their very very progressive thinking.
A One Room School House with No Cafeteria…didn’t hurt my mother or grandparents..And they were better educated than the kids today because they learned history ..math ..how to write a sentence and cursive… and they could tell the time on the grandfather clocks. Chande a tire and cook.
Please go and google one room school houses along with the Waldorf Schools.
Thank you Kay and I absolutely agree.
Charlene Coughran says
One Nation under God Liberty and Justice for all. Even christianchildten and their Parents. I went too church school from 1st too 11th grade and yes we had different grade levels in the classroom setting. Remember children are at different levels and teacher must set up individual lesson plan not too teach for the plan but too teach too the child’s level weather higher or lower academically. What better way than a 7 too one ratio. I know when attending a small Christian school and when circumstances arose that I had too attend public school there was such a difference as I was was ahead of the grade level. But even if you don’t factor that pice in the Goverment agenda too make children embrace their moral standards rather than the standards of their families is so wrong. You may say I don’t know what I am speaking about but I beg to differ with you I am a rently retired Ca school teacher. God bless the families of America land of the free!
It’s to not too
Also whether not weather
American patriot dad says
You are all crazy you would rather sell liquor or vape poison than allow people to save our nation from the current public education system that is the real grift you all say these new schools are bad but can’t offer any evidence of low test scores compared to public schools these posts are likely from public school teachers
What people are missing is that School/churches produce no tax revenue for the city, bars restaurants, rentals produce most of the business tax income. So its a dead pool use of land for the city.
The dude says
All these folks crying and whining about the public school systems are exactly the same zealots that were crying and whining
that the “SCHOOLS MUST BE OPEN!!!” last year.
Yeah, Florida schools are especially shitty… more so than Georgia (I didn’t think it was possible, but it is). But that’s by design, Florida folks made this so, and judging from the recent activities of the Flagler School Board, they wish it to be even worse.
Slapping up a banner that says “School” on it, and grifting state tax dollars from systems that DESPERATELY need those dollars does not make it a “school”.
A few misunderstandings from the comments it seems. This school is in fact regulated and meets the high standards for Private Schools under the Dept of Education. It’s also important to note that this school is a non-profit and doesn’t take funding from the state or local government like other schools do. As Kay mentioned the one-room-school-house is not new and has been proven to be very successful over traditional education. This is shown in the testing scores of students and graduation rates. Also noted by Kay yes this school is run in the same way as “Hardison Mill” built by Song Writer and Singer Rory Feek.
Concerns not mentioned, Flagler Beach already has two other schools operating in the city limits that have been overlooked. One out of someone’s home “Beyond School” and the other on S Ocean Shore and S 8th St. “Christmas Monastery”. (As noted on FL DOE Website) I am sure not mentioned because they would never be approved either. Thankfully this school wanted to be transparent and has nothing to hide. Seem like a perfect place to put my children!
No private schools are directly funded by government. Florida’s voucher subsidies go to parents, who then pay the school with those public funds.
That’s only if the private school takes part in the voucher program, not all private schools do. I am told this one does not. Therefore it is not directly funded by the government.
Thank you SO much for this response as it really does reveal what wasn’t shared in this article.
Let Freedom Ring says
I don’t have a dog in this fight, but the gun discussion is silly. State law permits a concealed permit holder to carry a gun into City Hall and any of the other government buildings. You just can’t bring it into an active City Council meeting. So are we going to shut those buildings down?