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  • Writer's pictureW. Cory Reiss

PowerPoint to (some of) the people! Private school contract permits expulsion for parents pushing anti-woke agenda.

Updated: Apr 4

Parents protesting a North Carolina private school’s attention to racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white police officer just learned two lessons from the North Carolina Court of Appeals:

First, yes, their child can be expelled from a private school that decides the parents’ reaction to diversity efforts conflicts with the school’s educational and social mission — because the contract they signed says the school has that authority.

Second, a PowerPoint presentation that parents opposed to diversity efforts circulated to other parents was, factually, an attack on students and faculty of color whom the PowerPoint contends did not meet school standards. Therefore, the Court ruled, a school administrator was not defamatory when he characterized the presentation as just such an attack.

This case began when a group of parents of students at Charlotte Latin Schools voiced concern that the school had become a tool for “indoctrination on progressive ideology” and went to its Board with a PowerPoint decrying diversity and inclusion efforts.  The school politely thanked them for their opinions and stayed on its course.  One set of parents wouldn’t let it drop, and the school responded by terminating its educational contract with them.  Meaning, it kicked out their child.

The parents of the expelled student sued, alleging breach of contract, fraud, unfair trade practices, defamation, and other various claims that the trial court dismissed.  The Court of Appeals panel voted 2-1 to affirm the decision, with the majority warning that to allow the case to proceed would subject all private schools to litigation over hiring, admission, and educational practices despite the essential contractual nature of the relationships.

The decision on Tuesday is interesting from several angles, not the least of which is the implication that the protesting parents thought they were falsely being accused of “harboring racist views” — the basis for their defamation claim — only to have the Court of Appeals confirm there was nothing false about a school administrator’s representation of the prickly PowerPoint. Only false statements of fact can be defamatory.

The Court also confirmed that parents who think they can control what a private school teaches are subject to the same contractual rules as everyone else in the market for services, even educational ones.  Though they may escape politically driven debates in which these issues are hashed out in public school districts throughout the state, private school parents subject themselves to contractually defined codes of conduct and consequences.

The school contract that all Latin Schools parents signed states “the School reserves the right to discontinue enrollment if it concludes that the actions of a parent/guardian make such a relationship impossible or seriously interfere with the School’s mission.”  When these parents reiterated the PowerPoint’s contentions, the school decided it had reached its limit and bade them farewell.  The Court of Appeals decided the contract allowed that result.

Importantly, Justice Julee Flood dissented, but only on whether the court properly dismissed the breach of contract claim.  Given especially the clash of titanic issues and law firms in the case, expect at least an attempt to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Justice Flood, however, didn't quibble with the majority's decisions about other issues, including its conclusion that Latin Schools didn't defame parents by characterizing their beliefs as including racist views. 

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