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‘Not our jurisdiction’:
 Office of Charter Schools will not get involved in SRCA dispute

‘Not our jurisdiction’:
 Office of Charter Schools will not get involved in SRCA dispute

The Office of Charter Schools decided a recent dispute between Shining Rock Classical Academy and a parent is outside its jurisdiction in a decision released Monday, Dec. 5.

“With regard to the allegations concerning Mr. Morgan, it appears that [the parent] did not follow the charter school’s grievance policy and withdrew her grievance,” the OCS decision reads. “[The parent] did express their concerns about the grievance process; however, [the parent] is nevertheless required to follow the grievance process. Unfortunately, [the parent’s] complaint does not fall within the State Board of Education’s jurisdiction.”

The Office of Charter Schools, a division of the Department of Public Instruction, first received a complaint regarding Shining Rock Classical Academy on Sept. 7. The complaint requested the office investigate Head of School Joshua Morgan for discipline tactics used at the school. The complaint also asks that the parent be allowed to undergo the formal grievance process, which she alleges has not been completed.

“Mr. Morgan has violated policy with my child and refuses to work toward resolution,” the complaint reads. “I have exhausted all means at school level. The SRCA board of directors did not offer a fair grievance process.”

The parent lodged their grievance with the school regarding a specific incident in January, during which Morgan allegedly put her child alone in a police car belonging to the school’s resource officer and threatened to take the student to juvenile detention, a threat that was never carried out. 

The issue is complicated by the fact that the parent lodging the complaint, Rebecca Fitzgibbon, was previously serving on the Shining Rock Board of Directors. While board members will not confirm this detail, the parent alleges that board members told her it would be more fruitful to work toward addressing discipline policy as a board, rather than through an individual grievance. For this reason, Fitzgibbon says, she dropped her grievance through the school. 

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However, a few months later, citing “unresolved issues” with Fitzgibbon, board chair Melanie Norman prompted the board to seek her removal. 

“I believe the board decided to remove me because I had a conflict with the head of school, and because I was diligently working for board and head of school accountability,” said Fitzgibbon. “By this point, I had become aware of the fact that many others had experienced similar issues to what my family had faced, and I believed that those issues needed to be addressed at board level.”

“The responsibility of the chairperson is to keep the board functioning efficiently,” said Norman. “When it becomes apparent that a board member cannot uphold the responsibilities of the role, the chairperson is required to take action on behalf of the board, the school and the community.”

Because Fitzgibbon dropped her grievance with the school, the Office of Charter schools says it cannot intervene. 

“The office [of charter schools] was set up to support schools which puts us in a difficult position,” said Ashley Baquero, OCS director. “I completely understand parents and other stakeholders wanting to receive assistance from someone outside the school, which, in a traditional school, I assume is the central office. But in charters, the central office is essentially the same as the school, so they come to us. But we are not a legal or investigatory office which is really what many are requesting us to be.”

Baquero said that with only six consultants in the Office of Charter Schools, OCS is responsible for serving over 200 schools. The office handles a huge volume and variety of matters, everything from the application process, to renewals, to all State Board of Education matters related to charter schools. 

“Getting into the specifics of an individual parent grievance takes a huge amount of time and resources — so in addition to not having explicit authority to do so, we don’t have the capacity,” said Baquero. “We do, however, spend a large amount of time guiding schools in drafting/implementing the grievance process and simply facilitating contact.”

After Fitzgibbon lodged the initial complaint with OCS in September, the school responded through an attorney. It claims that the “[parent] has exacted an inordinate toll on many public servants and their attorney in time, energy, and expense, due to her insatiable need to justify herself — notwithstanding her lack of evidence of any wrongdoing.”

Regarding the specific incident in question, it goes on to state “[the parent] was not present during the incident, but appears to rely entirely on the student’s version of events. Mr. Morgan removed the student from the class for disruptive behavior and, eventually, had the student speak with the School’s Resource Office in the officer’s squad car.”

This version of the story contradicts the parent’s claim that the student was alone in the cop car after being threatened with juvenile detention, stating instead that Mr. Morgan “had the student speak with the School’s Resource Officer in the officer’s squad car.”

Other information provided in the school’s response seems to corroborate the parent’s account of the event. 

The school included in its response the incident report by the school’s resource officer, Bryan Reeves, employed at the Waynesville Police Department. The report describes the officer watching Morgan approach the car with a student. 

“I stepped out to see what was going on. Mr. Morgan advised that [the student] might have earned a trip to DJJ for a juvenile petition for ‘disrupting the school day and his class’ … I removed the content from the area behind me (drivers seat) and Mr. Morgan advised [the student] to have a seat, that [the teacher] was on her way down to talk with [the student] because it was her class that [the student] had disrupted. Mr. Morgan closed the door and began to explain to me what had happened… Less than a minute later, [the teacher] walked up to my car and I opened the door so that she could talk with [the student].”

At the time the complaint was lodged, Waynesville Chief of Police David Adams told The Smoky Mountain News that an SRO may have to handcuff a student and/or place them in a cop car “if they committed a violent act.”

The school’s response does not present evidence that the student committed a violent act. 

In its response, the SRCA claims, “At most, it appears there is a difference of opinion as to what was [sic] appropriate disciplinary actions, but no evidence provided by [name redacted] of any violation of policy or law, or other standard or disciplinary propriety.”

After reviewing the school’s response and the decision by OCS that the issue was outside their jurisdiction, Fitzgibbon told the Smoky Mountain News that she filed new grievances to try and revive the process that OCS says must play out before OCS could become involved.

She claims she lodged new grievances in August and has received no response from the board. After multiple attempts, Smoky Mountain News could not reach board chair Melanie Norman to confirm receipt of those grievances or next steps in that process. 

In the Office of Charter School’s response to the SRCA parent complaint regarding breach of policy, the letter states that “violations of school board policy and open meetings law… must be brought in the appropriate division of the General Court of Justice of superior court.”

According to Fitzgibbon, the family has obtained a lawyer and will pursue legal action. 

Leave a comment


  • As a parent I do not believe these claims are baseless. SMN could interview students who would confirm the physical nature of discipline at this school. Also, why is no one requesting a statement from the officer??

    posted by Anonymous

    Saturday, 12/10/2022

  • As a parent I do not believe these claims are baseless. SMN could interview students who would confirm the physical nature of discipline at this school. Also, why is no one requesting a statement from the officer??

    posted by Anon

    Saturday, 12/10/2022

  • My children attended SRCA back when it first opened they hated it and I had the same opinion from what I witnessed. It's was then and always will be politics at this place it's all about who you know there. I think they should shut the place down before more severe things come to light. It just keeps getting worse and worse. I'm sure nothing the kid did warranted that behavior and a trip to juvenile detention are you kidding!

    posted by Anonymous

    Friday, 12/09/2022

  • As a parent and teacher I am baffled as to how it is within this school’s disciplinary policy to allow the Head of School to put a child in a police car as a threat, on top of that alone in a police car. I also wonder how anyone would consider that this is appropriate action for a Head of School, even if it is somehow allowed within the school’s policies. This is the kind of person teachers want to have in leadership and that parents want near their kids? I think there must be something else going on here. It doesn’t make sense.

    posted by Gwendolyn Ottinger

    Friday, 12/09/2022

  • The SRCA board “vehemently denied” all claims made in the original complaint to DPI, they then wrote an all-school email calling Rebecca Fitzgibbon’s claims “baseless”, and now SMN reporter finds the police report about one of my claims that I didn’t even know existed! The report validates my son’s account of his experience. My claims are not baseless. This is one piece of evidence that supports one of my claims. The board included this police incident report in their documents to DPI.
    The board has had that police incident report in their possession.
    There is more.
    My Facebook page is where I’ll post further.
    Thank you SMN for your professional reporting and investigative work.

    posted by Rebecca Fitzgibbon

    Thursday, 12/08/2022

  • Thank you for covering this. I'm deeply troubled on two fronts: 1. As a friend of Ms. Fitzgibbon, three words come to mind to describe her: honest, decent, and kind. It's upsetting to see her name smeared in the SRCA board's recent statement for shining a spotlight on what, at best, amounts to extremely inappropriate behavior and, at worst, amounts to cruel and abusive behavior. She is right to speak out. 2. I'm both surprised and concerned that there seems to be very little means of redress for parents and families when serious concerns like this arise. As a mother, I'd be beyond livid if one of my children were placed in a cop car and threatened with jail by the school principal.

    posted by Liz

    Thursday, 12/08/2022

  • RED FLAGS!! As a parent I am concerned and appalled by the school / and boards lack of focus on what appears to be an abuse of power and intimidation of a child. Exactly what level of classroom “disturbance” requires a conversation (and threats) in the back of a police vehicle?! It seems the school is more concerned with correct policy procedure than on the actual care and wellbeing of the child. I hope for the child sake (and all the other kids at this school), that this is resolved in the best interest of the CHILDREN and it doesn’t happen again!!

    posted by Caryn

    Thursday, 12/08/2022

  • So the student was threatened with jail for disrupting class, and locked in the Officer’s car?! Poor child! That must have been traumatizing. Do school’s really discipline this way? This seems really wrong to me.

    posted by Concerned Mother

    Wednesday, 12/07/2022

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