The Parents’ Bill of Rights ushered in reasonable and necessary requirements for public schools to, among other things, ensure parental involvement. And now the stage is set for the NC Court of Appeals to protect parents’ rights in North Carolina’s private schools, as well.
With the recent expansion by the General Assembly of the Opportunity Scholarship program — ushering in universal school choice by making every North Carolina family eligible for thousands of dollars in grants to attend private school — the court’s consideration of rights for private school parents could not have come at a better time.
My family knows firsthand the importance of holding private schools accountable. In April 2022, we sued Charlotte Latin School when, without cause, it expelled our two young children. Back in September 2021, the head of school, Chuck Baldecchi, had expelled our children in retaliation for the exercise of our contractually protected right to respectfully communicate with the school about our children’s education (including about the school’s recent change in curriculum and culture to focus on a political agenda), as well as about our children’s well-being. It was cancel culture at its worst.
As set forth in our lawsuit, Charlotte Latin School made express promises of no retaliation against us and other families who reasonably asked questions and shared concerns about the shift in the school’s curriculum and culture toward a political agenda. This included disturbing artwork that began to appear at the school, such as a picture of Jesus with his throat cut and black blood pooling down his shirt with the words “God is Dead” and a picture of a police officer represented as a pig with “All Cops Are Bastards” written on it.
A group of concerned parents, calling ourselves Refocus Latin, was invited to ask questions and express concerns to the board of trustees without the fear of retaliation. However, after the presentation to the board, neither the board nor Baldecchi provided any feedback as to whether they supported and affirmed the political changes in curriculum and culture. In fact, Baldecchi denied there were any changes, saying the school was still teaching children how to think, not what to think, despite the mountain of evidence that this was not true. Instead, they encouraged us to ask questions and to share our concerns with school administrators. So that is what we did.
A week or two later, when our son informed us of political indoctrination taking place in the classroom — Republicans were all called white supremacists, and he was forced to read a book called “Woke, a Young Poet’s Call to Justice” — and after he additionally told us that he was not being permitted to use the bathroom or drink from his water bottle, we understandably contacted the school administrator, head of middle school Todd Ballaban.
While we were promised a meeting with Baldecchi and Ballaban to discuss our concerns with an assurance of “no blowback,” they instead lured us into what turned out to be an expulsion meeting with no prior notice. Baldecchi expelled our children effective immediately from the only school they have ever known and during a pandemic that was taking a toll on our nation’s youth.
To make matters even worse, a few days later, the school’s board of trustees defamed us and all the members of Refocus Latin in an email sent out to everyone at the school.
On Oct. 31, a three-judge panel of the NC Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in our case on the issue of whether North Carolina recognizes legal claims against private schools when schools, like Charlotte Latin School, engage in acts of breach of contract, deception, fraud, misrepresentation, negligence, and defamation against parents.
Judge Julee Flood astutely noted at the hearing that Charlotte Latin School’s enrollment agreement promises parents that it will implement its policies, including how the school handles the expulsion of students, in a manner that is “fair, thorough, and equitable.” The school’s response to Judge Flood that, as a private school, it is not required to provide constitutional due process was unresponsive and evasive. This point highlighted that Charlotte Latin School promised fairness, thoroughness, and equity, and it obviously denied that to us and to our children.
The protection of parents’ rights to communicate with their children’s school about their children’s education, health, and safety — and addressing the harm caused by a school’s sudden and unwarranted expulsion of children — has always been and will always be the focus of our case. It’s an issue that cuts across the political divide because all parents — whether they be from the political left or right — have an interest in their children’s education, health, and safety. No parent should have to worry that they might be expelled just for asking questions about their child’s education or about obviously abusive situations that threaten their child’s welfare.
The recent expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship program will, beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, provide thousands of dollars to every North Carolina family to enable children to attend private schools. The program will offer educational opportunities for low-income families that have never had a choice in deciding what school is best suited for their children.
This case — and the recognition of legal claims against private schools like Charlotte Latin School — presents the NC Court of Appeals with a perfect occasion to ensure much-needed accountability of private schools, including those that will very soon be receiving tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds under the Opportunity Scholarship program. Private schools, like Charlotte Latin, are businesses that are not exempt from the laws that prevent fraud, deception, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and breach of contract. North Carolina’s private schools are not above the law, and they cannot improperly expel children without consequences.
For the sake of the children, let’s hold all schools accountable — public and private.