Decision To Expel Students For Parent Conduct Upheld Due To Enrollment Agreement Language

CATEGORY: Private Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education
DATE: Jan 29, 2024

Doug and Nicole Turpin’s children O.T. and L.T. attended Charlotte Latin School, a private K-12 school in North Carolina, from the time they were in kindergarten through September 2021.

The parents allege that, until the 2020-2021 school year, the education provided at the School was traditional and apolitical.  However, in June 2020, following the death of George Floyd, a letter was sent to all parents, faculty, and staff, that parents felt indicated the School was moving toward a curriculum, culture, and focus associated with a “political agenda.”  Also in June 2020, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni began receiving a video series distributed by the School entitled “Conversations About Race.”

During the 2020-2021 school year, the Turpin parents and other school parents began to discuss their concerns about the communications from the School, as well as the changes in curriculum, reading materials, and classroom policies that they felt adopted a political agenda.  This group of parents began calling themselves “Refocus Latin,” and requested a meeting with the Board to address their concerns.

In February 2021, the Turpin parents paid an enrollment fee and entered into an enrollment contract for the 2021-2022 school year.  This enrollment contract included a provision requiring parents to uphold the Parent-School Partnership and a provision agreeing to accept all policies, rules, and regulations contained in the Family Handbook.

In July 2021, Refocus Latin was invited to present their concerns to the Board.  Following the presentation, the Board chair communicated that neither the Board nor the administration would continue the dialogue about the concerns Refocus Latin had presented.

In September 2021, the Turpin parents emailed the Head of the Middle School with concerns they had about L.T.’s class and shared that the teacher was making comments that felt like indoctrination on progressive ideology.  The Turpin parents also said that the teacher would not let L.T. pull his mask down long enough to drink water, nor would she allow L.T. to go to the bathroom.

The School investigated these concerns and found no evidence of wrongdoing.  When the Head of the Middle School met with the Turpin parents later that week to discuss the findings, he expressed concerns that Refocus Latin, and by association, the Turpin parents, believed that the School accepts students and hires faculty because of their color, and that neither are up to the merit of the School.  Thereafter, the Head of the Middle School terminated the enrollment contracts for O.T. and L.T.

In April 2022, the Turpin parents filed suit against Charlotte Latin School, the Head of School, the Head of the Middle School, and the School’s board members alleging nine different claims, including breach of contract and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

The trial court dismissed eight of the Turpin parents’ claims.  It did not dismiss the claims for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.  The Turpin parents appealed.

On appeal, the Turpin parents alleged that the School breached the enrollment contract and did not apply the terms of the contract in good faith.  The Court of Appeals disagreed.

The Court reasoned that the enrollment agreement had plain and unambiguous language about Parent-School Partnership, which required parents to have a positive and collaborative working relationship between the School and the parents.

The language included that the School has the right to discontinue enrollment if the actions of the parent make such a relationship impossible or seriously interfere with the School’s mission.  The School’s mission is: “to encourage individual development and civility in our students by inspiring them to learn, by encouraging them to serve others, and by offering them growth-promoting opportunities.”

The Parent-Student Partnership provided that an effective partnership is characterized by support of the Mission and adherence to the Honor Code.  The Honor Code provided that the School is one “where families of diverse backgrounds, races, religions, and nationalities share common values, practice mutual respect, and reach for academic excellence.”

The Court of Appeals concluded that it was impossible for the Turpin parents and the School to have a positive, collaborative working relationship.  The animosity between the Turpin parents and the School was obvious.  The Court of Appeals noted the length and detail of the Turpin parents’ legal complaint in “assailing” the School’s political agenda.

The Court of Appeal also concluded that the Turpin parents violated the School’s mission.  The Court reasoned that the Turpin parents’ continued attack on the School’s adoption of a political agenda and refusal to concede to changes in the curriculum with which they disagreed, did interfere with the School’s mission of inspiring students to learn.  In particular, it interfered with their learning about issues related to race, gender, and sexuality.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling and dismissed the breach of contract claim.

Note: Parents may at times disagree with various aspects of their child’s education and this case serves as an important reminder that the language in enrollment agreements is crucial.  Here, the School was clear about their mission and creating a learning environment that promoted diversity.  Their enrollment agreement also had clear language about maintaining a positive parent-school partnership.

Turpin v. Charlotte Latin Sch., Inc. (Ct.App. 2024) 2024 N.C. App. LEXIS 33.

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