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People often contrast public schools with sectarian schools without stopping to think that there are actually a wide variety of secular schools including, but not limited to the public schools. Secular schools, which means “not related to or supported by a particular religion or religious group, can be of three basic types: public schools, charter schools, and private or independent schools.
Public schools are one type of secular schools in the United States. In the US, no public school has a religious affiliation, whether it is an elementary school or an institution of higher education, such as a land-grant college and university. Charter schools are actually a part of the public school system, but have specialized academic disciplines or focus, so they too are, by definition, secular schools.
Although some private and/or independent schools are sectarian, a large number are not. The ones that are not can be of a number of different types. Some private schools are special education schools, specifically created to serve special populations such as students who are blind or Deaf, or students with learning disabilities or behavioral issues. Private athletic schools combine athletics with academics in a secular setting.
Trade or vocational schools are another type of secular school. The focus of a trade or vocational school is on training students in skills and techniques. This is also the focus for performing arts schools, though in a different area of learning.
A number of private secular schools are based on a particular philosophy or pedagogy. These schools have a specialized curriculum and a common approach with other schools of the same type. Some examples are Coalition of Essential Schools, distance learning schools, Learning Network Schools, Montessori Schools, Sudbury Valley Schools, and Waldorf Schools.
One type of school that may be either secular or sectarian is the military academy. Some schools combine sectarian focus with military training, but this is often apparent in their name, which may be something like “Christian Military Academy.”
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