Charter school retaliation case moves to federal court

Almost two years ago, a group of Miami-Dade public school administrators won a first-of-its-kind verdict, when a Florida administrative law judge found their school district illegally thwarted their bid to convert the Neva King Special Education Center into a charter school.

That case isn’t over. It’s now moved to federal court, where the administrators have filed a free speech complaint against the school board.

They claim the Miami-Dade district has a systemic “bias” against efforts by parents and teachers to convert traditional public schools to charters, and that the school board owes them back pay and other damages.

After the 2014 administrative law ruling, the administrators didn’t get their jobs back, but they were able to receive comparable positions in Miami-Dade Public Schools. The Miami New Times reports:

That’s not good enough, the three now claim in federal court. In their new complaint, they argue the School Board has an “unwritten, long-standing, and widespread custom against the creation of conversion charter schools.” There are no such schools in the district, and board members have said that “there will be no conversions” and that allowing a conversion charter school was “opening a can of worms,” according to the lawsuit.

It also says that after [former principal Alberto T. Fernandez and vice principal Henny Cristobol] were reassigned in May 2012, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho made an unannounced visit to Neva King Cooper and said, “This school is a Miami-Dade County public school, and it is going to remain a Miami-Dade County public school, and anybody who wants to change that will have to go through me.”

All in all, the plaintiffs argue, the case shows the lengths Carvalho’s administration is willing to go to prevent a vote on a charter school conversion.

According to the New Times, the school district won’t comment on pending litigation, but believes the issues in the case were dealt with when the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings decided the retaliation case two years ago.

However, earlier this month, a federal judge in Florida’s southern district rejected a motion from the school board to dismiss the case, meaning the lawsuit can proceed.

Florida statutes protect teachers and administrators who want to convert traditional public schools to charters from retaliation by the school districts that employ them. This case will shed light on whether those protections (and now, other protections in federal law) really have enough teeth to deter districts from thwarting similar efforts.

Avatar photo

BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)