Private school groups back Charlotte Latin in legal dispute over ‘political culture’

Image from

Listen to this story (7 minutes)

  • Two groups representing private schools back Charlotte Latin at the N.C. Court of Appeals in the school's dispute with parents of two expelled students.
  • Doug and Nicole Turpin's lawsuit against Charlotte Latin cited the school's shift toward a "political culture and curriculum."
  • The N.C. Association of Independent Schools and Southern Association of Independent Schools argued in new court documents that the Turpins' arguments would undermine the freedom of contract.

Two groups representing private schools urge the N.C. Court of Appeals to uphold a ruling favoring Charlotte Latin in its legal dispute with parents of two expelled students.

Parents Doug and Nicole Turpin filed a lawsuit citing their concern about Charlotte Latin’s shift toward a “political culture and curriculum” in 2020-21. The school has characterized the suit as a challenge to its “diversity, equity, and inclusion” measures.

The N.C. Association of Independent Schools and Southern Association of Independent Schools filed new paperwork Wednesday with the state’s second-highest court. The two groups support Charlotte Latin’s case.

“This case presents novel legal challenges to what has long been understood as a fundamental aspect of freedom of contract: i.e., the rights of independent schools, like Defendant-Appellee Charlotte Latin School, Inc. (“Latin”), to manage their relationships with parents by contract,” wrote lawyers representing the private school groups. “Plaintiffs-Appellants Doug Turpin and Nicole Turpin (“the Turpins”) alleged sweeping legal theories that, if they proceeded, would undermine the bedrock fundamental right of freedom of contract and would lead to litigation in an area of longstanding, settled law.”

“The Turpins’ legal theories also would imperil the First Amendment’s freedom of association by inserting lawyers and courts where they do not belong,” according to the private school groups’ document.

“The trial court correctly read the contract between the parties to empower Latin to terminate its relationship with the Turpins when it concluded, in its discretion, that the Turpins had made their relationship with Latin impossible or substantially interfered with its mission,” the brief continued. “The trial court correctly concluded that long-standing freedom of contract principles compel this conclusion and that the Turpins’ other claims have no basis.”

More than 115,000 students attended 828 independent schools in North Carolina in 2021-22, according to the court filing. “Reversing and permitting this case to proceed would harm all our independent schools, opening their private governance to unprecedented and novel challenges which, heretofore, were barred by bedrock principles of contract and constitutional law that enable independent schools to shape their own culture, religious teachings, and values as they see fit,” the private school groups’ lawyers argued.

The Turpins offered their arguments to the N.C. Appeals Court in May.

“Charlotte Latin School encouraged open, frank communication between administrators and parents,” according to a brief from the parents’ lawyers. “So when Doug and Nicole Turpin perceived that the school had departed drastically from its long-held values, they brought it up. Acting with a larger group of parents and calling themselves ‘Refocus Latin,’ the Turpins and others gave a detailed presentation to Latin’s Board of Trustees identifying their concerns and proposing concrete solutions. Both before and during the presentation, the Board assured Refocus Latin and the Turpins that their participation would not create blowback. Latin wouldn’t retaliate. The Board even appeared thankful for the Turpins’ input.”

“But Latin’s Head of School, Charles Baldecchi, did not feel the same way,” the brief continued. “In the weeks after the meeting, Baldecchi railed against the Refocus Latin presentation, calling it a lost cause and telling faculty and staff that the Turpins’ views were abhorrent. Baldecchi set out to stop the Refocus Latin families, instructing the faculty to bring him any complaints about the school’s values.”

Doug Turpin later complained to the school that his son “had been mistreated and exposed
to inappropriate things in his sixth-grade class,” according to the brief. That complaint eventually led to the expulsion of both Turpin children. “Following the expulsion, both Baldecchi and Latin’s Board defamed the Turpins.“

The parents sued the school in April 2022. A trial judge dismissed all but one claim in October 2022. The Turpins urged the state’s second-highest court to reverse the trial court’s decision.

“Through the 2019–2020 school year, the school provided a traditional, apolitical education that respected differing views,” according to the May brief. “But in the 2020–2021 school year the Turpins perceived a shift in Latin’s culture and curriculum. Along with others, they perceived that in the 2020–2021 school year, Latin adopted a political culture and curriculum, which required students to read inappropriate or political materials and resulted in students being asked inappropriate and politically charged questions.”

The Refocus Latin group shared its concerns about the school, as explained in the brief. “One concern in particular predominated: if Latin continued on its perceived course, leaving its ‘old’ standards behind, the change in culture and curriculum could eventually harm Latin.”

“Refocus Latin worried that Latin’s current trajectory would ‘eventually erode[ ] the quality of student, quality of curriculum, quality of teacher and the academic rigor at the school,’” the brief continued. “The parents also worried that Latin would suffer because some changes in Latin’s culture and curriculum were ‘superseding optimizing evaluations for admitting [the] most qualified students and hiring [the] most qualified faculty.’”

Baldecchi misrepresented the Refocus group’s concerns, the Turpins’ lawyers wrote. “According to Baldecchi, Refocus Latin believed that Latin ‘accepts students and hires faculty because of their color’ and that those students and faculty were ‘not up to the merit of the school.’ Neither statement resembled Refocus Latin’s concerns, which addressed only the potential for negative consequences if Latin retained what the Refocus Latin parents believed was a political culture and curriculum.”

In addition to action at the state Appeals Court, the Turpins filed a petition in March asking the N.C. Supreme Court to take the case. Charlotte Latin responded in April that there was no compelling reason for the Supreme Court to take up what the school described as a contractual dispute. The state’s high court has not responded to the petition.