Parents fighting DEI in Charlotte private school seek NC Supreme Court review

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  • Parents fighting diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities at a Charlotte private school are asking the N.C. Supreme Court to take their case.
  • The school — Charlotte Latin — filed paperwork Wednesday urging the state's highest court to steer clear of the legal dispute.
  • The case is attracting attention from the N.C. Association of Independent Schools and the Southern Association of Independent Schools.

Parents of two children expelled from a private school in Charlotte are asking the N.C. Supreme Court to step into their legal dispute. The school filed paperwork this week urging the state’s highest court to steer clear of the case.

In September 2021, Charlotte Latin School expelled Doug and Nicole Turpin’s two children, identified in court documents as O.T. and L.T.

“The expulsion was not because of the children’s actions,” according to a petition the Turpins filed March 23 with the N.C. Supreme Court. “Instead, Latin punished the children to retaliate against their parents. The Turpins’ crime? Asking questions and offering their constructive concerns about what Doug and Nicole perceived to be a politically motivated change in Latin’s culture and curriculum.”

The Turpins filed suit against the school, its leaders, and its board of trustees. A trial judge ruled against the parents in October 2022. Rather than allow the case to proceed to the N.C. Court of Appeals, the Turpins are asking the state’s highest court to bypass the intermediate court and hear the dispute in the coming months.

“This case warrants discretionary review because it raises issues of significant public interest and involves novel legal principles,” the Turpins’ lawyers wrote. “Latin expelled the Turpins’ children, O.T. and L.T., because the Turpins — consistent with the school’s policies — requested a dialogue about what they saw as a shift in Latin’s climate, culture, and curriculum, abandoning the school’s previously apolitical identity in pursuit of a political agenda.”

“Latin’s decision to expel O.T. and L.T. cannot be reconciled with a parent’s right to communicate with their children’s school about what their children learn and how they are treated,” the Turpins’ petition continued. “’The liberty interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children’ is ‘perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States.’ That is especially true when parents have concerns about teacher behavior. And that interest is at stake here.”

“The Turpins’ case is one of a growing number asking whether schools can deny parents input on their child’s education, even in a private school setting,” the Turpins’ lawyers added. “These cases all recognize that, in some cases, private schools are selling a bad bill of goods — luring parents in by promising a classical, apolitical education only to subvert the parents’ wishes by offering a political curriculum. And if those parents respectfully question this perceived politicization only to have the school expel their children, that conduct is unlawful.”

The state Supreme Court could “make that point clear” by taking the Turpins’ case, according to the petition.

Responding Wednesday, the school urged justices not to grant the Turpins’ request. The school cited “Latin’s reasonable exercise of its contractual right to discontinue enrollment of Plaintiffs’ two children after it concluded that a positive, collaborative working relationship with Plaintiffs was impossible or that Plaintiffs’ conduct seriously interfered with the mission of the school.”

“Plaintiffs have not shown there are legal matters of significant public interest at stake or that there are any unsettled principles of law to be addressed,” Charlotte Latin’s lawyers argued. “Despite Plaintiffs’ claims of a liberty interest, they acknowledge that Latin is a private school and that their relationship is merely contractual. There is nothing about the trial court’s application of well-established contract and tort law to Plaintiffs’ claims that warrants the extraordinary step of bypassing review by the Court of Appeals.”

Charlotte Latin’s court filing shows that problems with the Turpins started in June 2020, when the school wrote to parents, faculty, and staff about how “principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion” would influence the school’s new strategic plan.

The Turpins observed changes in the 2020-21 school year that “were indicative of a political agenda,” according to the Charlotte Latin document. The Turpins re-enrolled their children at Charlotte Latin for 2021-22, but worked with other parents as a group that called itself “Refocus Latin.”

Doug Turpin and nine other parents offered an August 2021 presentation to Charlotte Latin school leaders. “The presentation accused Latin’s Board leadership of publicly aligning ‘with a political organization and an ideology that is inconsistent the [sic] school’s core values, beliefs and founding principles’ and accused the administration of ‘[r]eplacing school traditions grounded in American values with politically extremist and anti-nuclear family values,’” according to the school.

“The Refocus Latin presentation also complained that ‘equity’ would lower the quality of students and faculty at Latin and called on Latin to ‘affirm meritocracy,’” Charlotte Latin’s document continued. The parents specifically questioned DEI and “Critical Theory.”

After that presentation, the Turpins continued to question Charlotte Latin’s policies, including rules related to masking and vaccinations. The school “terminated Plaintiffs’ Enrollment Agreements” after Doug Turpin criticized his son’s humanities teacher and asked him to be reassigned to another instructor.

The case is attracting attention from the N.C. Association of Independent Schools and the Southern Association of Independent Schools. Those groups filed paperwork Wednesday with the Appeals Court. They plan to file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Charlotte Latin.

“The authority of independent schools, such as Latin, to manage their relationships with parents is a matter of ordinary contract law, but of great importance” to both associations “and their mission,” according to the court filing.

“Specifically, this matter involves what has been long understood as a simple matter of freedom of contract — i.e., the rights of independent schools to manage relationships with parents by contract,” the document continued. “Plaintiffs-Appellants’ appeal poses a novel challenge to this bedrock understanding.”