The principal of Eagle Arts Academy threatened last week to expel a student after his father posted a negative comment about the struggling charter school on Facebook.
Skylar Goodwin, whose son is an eighth-grader at the Wellington school, said he had argued with administrators on Wednesday after they refused to call police to report the theft of his son’s cell phone on the school’s campus.
After the argument, Goodwin took to the school’s Facebook page, where he wrote that it was the “worst school I’ve ever had my son in.”
Not long after that, he said, he received a call from the school’s founder and principal, Gregory James Blount, who he said told him that if he didn’t remove the comment within a day his son would be expelled.
“He said you have 24 hours to take that down or else we’re going to kick him out of school,” he said. “I just don’t know how a principal can just threaten you with that.”
The threat is an empty one, the school district says, because only the county school board can formally expel a student. But it’s a tactic that critics say charter schools often use to try to weed out problematic or low-performing students.
A charter school, Eagle Arts Academy is privately operated but publicly funded and is supposed to abide by most of the same rules as traditional public schools. Since it opened in 2014, it has struggled with financial controversies and high staff turnover. Last year, its school grade fell to a D.
Blount acknowledged that he made the threat but said that it wasn’t just because of the Facebook comment. He said that Goodwin had threatened his staff, although he declined to elaborate or describe the nature of the threat.
(Goodwin denied he threatened anyone and said a sheriff’s deputy, who he had summoned to report his son’s stolen phone, was with him during his entire visit to the school.)
Blount argued that removing the student was the school’s prerogative since students and parents sign a contract agreeing to comply by certain rules.
“We have a parent/child contract that requires the parent to address any concerns with the school, so we can properly investigate and try and resolve the issue for the benefit of all,” Blount told The Palm Beach Post via email.
“We are a school of choice and the parents agree to abide by the rules,” he said. “If they do not, then they are welcome to go to their home school.”
Blount’s move prompted a warning from district administrators, who have been monitoring the school closely amid financial and academic woes and frequent leadership turnover.
“You can’t remove a child from your enrollment involuntarily,” said Jim Pegg, director of the school district’s charter school department. “If he were to act on this, he would face consequences.”
The school’s handbook contains a “parent contract” that parents are required to sign. Included in the contract is the line: “I understand that my child may be returned to his/her district school should this contract not be fulfilled.”
Pegg, though, said the vows the school requires parents to take are legally meaningless.
“That contract has no binding authority,” he said.
Eagle Arts has been a problem child for the school district during the last year and a half, starting with a series of reports in The Palm Beach Post about Blount’s financial dealings with the school.
The school is currently on its fourth principal since the school year began in August. After the third one resigned to run a funeral home, Blount, who founded the school had been serving as the school’s executive director, stepped in as principal – an unusual move considering he had no traditional education experience.
Saying that the school’s financial dealings violated the school’s charter, Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa in September ordered the school to recover more than $45,000 that it paid to Blount, the school’s founder and executive director.
Avossa’s order was a result of a school district investigation launched after The Palm Beach Post revealed last year that Eagle Arts had paid more than $175,000 to three companies owned by Blount, who founded the school, served stints as its chairman, then became its executive director earlier this year.
Among the transactions uncovered by The Post: more than $37,000 being steered to Blount’s companies as a loan “repayment,” even though Blount had never loaned money to the school. The school also paid Blount an additional $9,600 in “interest,” records show.
Avossa concluded that the school’s charter prohibited any compensation for startup costs preceding the school’s opening in 2014.