A three-judge panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday in a suit brought by parents claiming that a Charlotte-area private school went woke and then expelled students of parents who disagreed.
The lawsuit argues that Charlotte Latin School “hatched a plan” to expel students after the parents started asking questions about changes in the school’s operations. The suit was filed by parents Doug and Nicole Turpin.
The Turpins originally filed suit in April 2022. A trial judge dismissed all but one claim in October 2022. The Turpins are now urging the state’s second-highest court to reverse the trial court’s decision.
“Being a parent isn’t easy. Parents have a right — or, at the very least, a need — to understand what their children are exposed to, whether by their friends, the media, or their teachers,” according to a brief the Turpins’ lawyers filed in August. “This is a case about two parents needing an answer to that question.”
“Yet when they asked, Charlotte Latin School and its administrators, Chuck Baldecchi and Todd Ballaban, shut them down,” the brief continued. “In just over two weeks, the Turpins went from valued community members, invited to speak to Latin’s board of trustees, to pariahs whose children were expelled.”
“Latin expelled the Turpin children … to make examples out of the Turpin family,” the parents argued. “The Turpins’ valid concerns irked the school’s administration. When Latin’s administrators got the chance, they hatched a plan to expel the Turpins’ children. … [T]his Court should reverse the trial court’s decision dismissing the complaint.”
During oral arguments, the lawyer for the Turpins, Chris Edwards of the law firm Ward and Smith, argued that the school unfairly targeted the family for expulsion.
“This is a business, not a public school,” Edwards said. “It may be a nonprofit business, but this is a business, not a public school. So, the Turpins are the school’s consumers, and it has an obligation to deal with them in good faith.”
In contrast, attorney Jennifer Van Zant of the Greensboro firm Brooks and Pierce, representing Charlotte Latin, argued that the school was well within its rights to end its relationship with the family. Van Zant emphasized that, in the school’s view, the students were not “expelled,” but the contract was simply ended.
“The very point of private education — whether it be a religious, classical, progressive, Montessori, experiential — is that schools can set a curriculum and policies and then parents can choose schools that match their personal ideologies,” Van Zant said. “Affirming the trial court’s order will affirm that in North Carolina, a private school may set its own course and may preserve a contractual right to separate from parents who want their children educated differently.”
Previously, the school has characterized the suit as a challenge to its “diversity, equity, and inclusion” measures.
The NC Association of Independent Schools and Southern Association of Independent Schools filed briefs with the state’s second-highest court. The two groups support Charlotte Latin’s case.
In a video interview with Carolina Journal, Turpin said that he and his wife were looking for a classical education for their children. They thought that would be achieved at Charlotte Latin. But the school took a turn toward progressivism after the George Floyd riots in 2020.
“All of a sudden they started sending out all kinds of very puzzling emails that sounded like virtue signaling,” Turpin said. “Then strange things began to appear in the school that were rather alarming to Christian parents like us.”
One of those was a picture hung in the hallway of the school depicting Jesus with his throat cut and black blood coming down his shirt, with the words “God is dead” on the forehead, according to Turpin.
The negative experience inspired Turpin to found a group called the Coalition for Liberty, which seeks to establish new classical model schools that are apolitical, among other objectives.