Harney charter school

Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy

The former principal of Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy will have to wait a few days longer to try to get her job back after a hearing on her case was delayed Wednesday until mid-December.

Ashonta Wyatt, the school's former principal, filed a request for an injunction in Orleans Parish Civil District Court last month, saying she was illegally fired because she raised questions about alleged financial mismanagement at the school.

Wyatt asked a judge to restrict members of the school's governing board from the school's grounds and from access to the school's bank accounts. She also wanted the Orleans Parish School Board, which is in the process of revoking the school's charter, to take the reins immediately.

Civil District Judge Paulette Irons denied the request for immediate action, and on Wednesday she delayed the hearing until Dec. 19 because she said she was required to give more time to board members to be served with a notice to appear in court. Board members didn't show up Wednesday.

"Without service, whatever I do is improper," Irons told Wyatt in open court. "I don't know what the facts are. I have to hear your side and I have to hear their side."

Although board members weren't present in court, they acknowledged they were aware of the legal action in a public statement issued last week.

In the statement, the Rev. Charles J. Southall III, the president of Harney's board, denounced Wyatt's claims as "baseless."

“It didn’t take long for us to understand why former Principal Wyatt was no longer employed at two other local schools," Southall said. "It’s disturbing that her anger has led to her petitioning the Orleans Parish Civil District Court."

Meanwhile, revocation proceedings are continuing for the embattled charter organization despite efforts the board made earlier in the week to start negotiating the surrender of the school's charter.

The whirlwind of developments concerning the immediate future of the Central City elementary school follows a decision by OPSB Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. to revoke Harney's charter in the middle of the current school year, a process that could be finished by January.

The announcement was made after Lewis detailed examples of financial mismanagement, problems in providing services to special education students, and the school's failure to comply with both district policies and state law.

Wyatt said in her filing that she was fired after she raised questions about checks she said were issued from the school's accounts to non-school employees.

Lewis has repeatedly called for the board to resign and surrender its charter so the district can start running the school immediately.

The Spirit of Excellence board has voted to give its president the power to negotiate the charter's surrender, but at a meeting Wednesday night Amanda Aiken, the OPSB's portfolio officer, said the vote had no legal standing.

"Until we receive anything in writing from the Spirit of Excellence counsel, we will proceed with our revocation process," Aiken said.

Wednesday's meeting was one of several required as part of Lewis' revocation process, which will also include a presentation to the full OPSB board this month.

Current Harney staff will have to reapply for their jobs when the OPSB takes over, officials said, an announcement that pitted parents against teachers present at the meeting.

In the meantime, Wyatt continued to advocate for her job in front of the School Board.

"Ever since I was suspended, this school has never been the same," she said.


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