State Supreme Court will not jump into parents’ legal fight with Charlotte private school

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  • The state Supreme Court will not bypass an intermediate court's consideration of two parents’ lawsuit against a Charlotte private school. Doug and Nicole Turpin accuse Charlotte Latin of expelling their children to retaliate against criticism of changes in the school’s focus.
  • The Supreme Court’s decision means the case will continue at the state Appeals Court.
  • The Turpins’ latest Appeals Court filing on Aug. 16 accused the school of “hatching a plan” to expel the students.
  • Charlotte Latin has described the case as a contract dispute. Groups representing private schools in North Carolina and throughout the Southeast support the Charlotte school in the lawsuit.

The state Supreme Court has denied two parents’ request to take up their legal dispute against a Charlotte private school. The state’s highest court declined to jump into the case as it moves through the Court of Appeals.

Lawyers for Doug and Nicole Turpin filed their latest Appeals Court brief on Aug. 16 in their lawsuit against Charlotte Latin. While pursuing an appeal at the intermediate court, the Turpins had filed a petition in March for the Supreme Court to bypass appellate judges.

The high court’s petitions list Friday indicated that justices had denied that request.

The Turpins argue that Charlotte Latin leaders “hatched a plan” to expel their children after the parents started asking questions about changes in the school’s operations.

“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 the Turpins’ lawyers latest Appeals Court brief. “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.”

Two groups representing private schools urged the Appeals Court in July to uphold the trial court ruling favoring Charlotte Latin.

The Turpin lawsuit cited the parents’ 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 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.

“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 initial arguments to the 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.”

The state Appeals Court has not yet scheduled Turpin v. Charlotte Latin for arguments.