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Charter school gets judge to gag the Loaf

More former Crossroads employees support claims of grade fixing

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In a stunning infringement of basic First Amendment rights, a judge has issued a temporary restraining order barring Creative Loafing from disclosing information given to us by former teachers at Crossroads Charter High School. This gag order followed a story in last week's CL, "Automatic Diplomas?", regarding charges by some teachers at Crossroads that students' grades were fixed to allow them to graduate. The restraining order, signed by Chief District Court Judge Yvonne Mims Evans, orders the paper to refrain from disclosing any information contained in evidence provided by three math teachers who taught at the school. It also orders the three teachers to refrain from sharing the information. CL is in the process of appealing the restraining order. The suit, which was filed by Crossroads' attorney James Conrad, refers to the evidence the teachers turned over to CL as "stolen."

Creative Loafing editor John Grooms said, "This restraining order is nonsense. We did not disclose any individual's information from the evidence provided us by the three teachers. We also deliberately did not name any of the students involved -- the students aren't the problem here. According to the teachers involved, the way the school has been run is the problem. The records in question were brought to us, unasked for; in other words, we obtained them lawfully. Maybe Judge Evans just isn't familiar with the Bill of Rights."

Creative Loafing, Inc. Senior Vice President Neil Skene added, "The people who sought this order and the judge who issued it didn't give even a passing reference to the First Amendment's freedom of the press. Maybe they haven't heard of the uninterrupted stream of cases rejecting the use of censorship of American newspapers. The US Supreme Court has set clear and very narrow standards for those who want to censor public speech, and these people were utterly heedless of those standards. Creative Loafing acted with integrity and violated no laws in the pursuit or publication of the story. The lawless behavior is by the judge who ignored all the case law limiting prior restraint. The school's attempt at censorship is obviously an effort to cut off criticism of the administration of the school. We wish the school instead would teach its students a lesson about the First Amendment and free debate about public issues, but I guess we'll have to do that job for them."

After last week's story was printed in CL, Conrad and school administrators demanded the return of any documents we may have received from the teachers, and any copies of those documents. Afterward, they launched a letter campaign to convince CL advertisers to stop advertising in the paper. So far, no advertisers have jumped ship.

Conrad, who claimed that the three teachers doctored the students' grades to embarrass the school, told CL that he would furnish evidence by Friday of last week that students' grades had not been changed by the school. Instead, he showed up for a meeting with this reporter with copies of the restraining order, and warned her that she could be jailed if the paper printed anything further about grade fixing at the school or failed to turn over the alleged evidence of grade fixing furnished by the former Crossroads teachers.

Conrad then followed the reporter into the lobby of WBT-1110 radio, where she was scheduled to go on the air; he then attempted to convince a station employee to bar the reporter from the air or from discussing Crossroads' situation on the air or he would add WBT to the suit. Last week, former Crossroads teachers Joel Silver, Dr. Herbert Moore and Alvin Abrams asked politicians and the state and federal education departments to investigate their claims that about a third of the school's graduating class failed math, and likely other subjects as well, but were handed their high school diplomas anyway. Because charter schools are public schools whose charters are awarded by the state and whose affairs are governed not by a superintendent or elected school board but by a board of volunteer citizens, the teachers say they have virtually no one to take their complaints to other than the media.

Over the past weekend, three more former Crossroads employees came forward to support the claims of the three math teachers.

Angelique Newton, a special education teacher who resigned from the school in February, says it was made clear to her and other teachers by school principal Tara Anderson that seniors were to receive passing grades, no matter how they actually did in their classes. Newton says that she and others at the school were aware that grades were being changed.

In an interview before our original story, Conrad acknowledged that some of the students were failing math, but said that they did make-up work in the fourth quarter of the school year that allowed them to graduate. But Newton says that by the fourth quarter, the majority of the staff at Crossroads had either been fired or had resigned and students weren't receiving instruction in all their classes because there simply weren't enough teachers to do it.

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