A judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit against Lee Christian School which alleged its board of directors was illegally constituted and had asked that a meeting of members be called to elect new leaders.
Superior Court Judge Cindy Sturges of Franklin County allowed a motion by Scott Meyers, who was representing Lee Christian School, to dismiss the suit for lack of standing on the plaintiffs’ part. Sturges also declined a motion by the plaintiffs’ attorney Jon Silverman to amend their initial complaint.
The decision came after an hour-plus hearing in which Meyers and Silverman went back and forth over whether the plaintiffs – parent April Stone, founding board member Vicki Gentry, and several other parents – were “members” of the nonprofit corporation and had standing before the court.
While the school’s founding documents from 1994 identify it as a “member-based nonprofit corporation,” Meyers’ position was that because Lee Christian never appointed members beyond its first year of incorporation, that original membership status dissolved after one year. Further inaction on the part of the school’s leadership to do so, he continued, only meant that the situation defaulted to one in which there were no longer any “members” – regardless of whether such people were dues and tuition-paying parents – and that the board of directors could subsequently appoint itself, which has been the case for most of the school’s 25-plus year existence. Meyers’ argument was first noted by the Rant back in July.
“If I believe that I’m a shareholder in Apple because I bought an iPhone, that doesn’t make it true,” Meyers argued.
Silverman responded that actions by the Lee Christian board of directors didn’t line up with its claim of not having members. He pointed to a “notice of special meeting for members” at which the school’s “members” would be asked to vote to seat the current directors as a new board and amend the bylaws to remove any references to membership. That notice was sent out on July 24 and asked for an Aug. 7 meeting which the school later canceled.
“Lee Christian noticed a special meeting of members, and now Lee Christian stands up and says ‘we have no members,'” Silverman said. “Lee Christian is speaking out out of both sides of its mouth. They’re acknowledging they didn’t follow the law and saying ‘now we want the court to help us out.'”
Sturges ultimately sided with the defendants.
Meyers also asked Sturges to rule that the plaintiffs be required to pay Lee Christian’s attorney’s fees, and while Sturges initially agreed, she withdrew her finding on that question, saying she’d prefer it be settled by another judge. A subsequent court hearing on that matter has not been scheduled. Meyers also said the school “may have to bring another action” if the plaintiffs continue to communicate with parents at the school via email about the case.
The plaintiffs maintained throughout that they weren’t attempting to injure the school, but felt powerless after beginning to feel that their expressed concerns about actions taken by the board they worried could harm the organization’s finances and ability to perform its mission (including the borrowing of $2 million for the construction of a daycare, and the hiring and firing of various administrative personnel) were falling on deaf ears. The plaintiffs said they spent several months requesting meetings or information from the school before filing the lawsuit, which did not seek damages other than attorney’s fees.
Stone said she was “kind of in shock” about the ruling, noting that Lee Christian had refused to re-enroll her children for the upcoming school year, which begins Thursday. Stone told the Rant in May that she initially sent her son to Lee Christian because of special needs she didn’t feel had been adequately addressed in public settings, and that she’d seen significant progress in that regard during his two years at the school. She said her concerns about the financial and personnel decisions were separate from her feelings about the job Lee Christian was doing educating her children (she has a daughter who attends as well).
“We were fighting for the children and the parents to have a say in the school, and we wanted them to be open and transparent and honest,” she said Monday. “You don’t have a say there. You’ve got an elementary school building that’s falling apart, and they’re building a $2 million daycare.”
Bruce MacInnes, chairman of the school’s board of directors, said the decision not to re-enroll Stone’s children “was made by the board based on two things that had nothing to do with her name on the lawsuit.”
He didn’t respond to a question about what recourse parents have if they concerns about actions taken by the board, saying only that “we believe that justice has finally been served. The Lord is doing some great things at Lee Christian school and we want to continue on the path that we have chosen as we see God‘s blessing in it and believe it will reach the most children for the gospel of Jesus Christ and to provide for them a quality education at the lowest cost possible.”