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Fired Lycée teacher sues school leaders for character defamation

A teacher who was fired from Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orléans Charter is suing the school and two of its leaders, saying they damaged her reputation after they had an officer escort her from campus last month.

Darleen Mipro, 39, was charged with criminal trespassing and disturbing the peace on Nov. 30, when she says school officials called the police and told her she was being fired for misconduct, according to a complaint filed by her attorney in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.

When Mipro asked what she did wrong, according to the lawsuit, she was told that Lycée’s school board learned that she had “tampered with the school’s website” and was involved in “organizing the teachers against the board.”

Mipro denied the accusations, but was held by Lycée board chairman Jean Montes, who first said she would not be allowed to collect her belongings or her son, a Lycée student, from his classroom before being escorted from the premises.

On Dec. 3, Mipro pleaded not guilty to the charges. Her trial date is set for Feb. 6.

The lawsuit comes as the school community grapples with changing leadershipfinancial concerns, divisions among parents regarding the course of the school and questions about the board’s governance.

The suit, filed Dec. 10 by attorney Robert Harvey, Sr., names board chairman Jean Montes and board member Paige Saleun as defendants along with the non-profit running the school, Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orléans Charter, Inc.

Montes declined to comment on the lawsuit this week, citing confidential personnel issues. None of the defendants had responded to the complaint by the end of the day Tuesday, according to Jade Scott with the Orleans Parish Clerk of Court.

The lawsuit says that when Mipro — who was chair of the English department, the school’s special education coordinator and a teacher for gifted and second grade students — started to use her cell phone to call her husband, Montes told her she would not be allowed to do so. Montes then told Mipro that she would have to come back to get her things after school hours, the lawsuit says. Then, she was told the police were on their way.

The lawsuit says that Montes eventually relented “with (Mipro) in tears” and allowed the school’s business manager to walk her to her classroom to get her purse. As Mipro walked through the school,  other teachers approached her, including one who led Mipro to her classroom to say goodbye to her students.

When Mipro was back in the office and waiting for police to arrive, the lawsuit says, school officials sent an email to parents informing them that Mipro “has been engaging in misconduct…which necessitated the immediate actions of the Administration this afternoon.”

It was signed simply, “Lycée Français Administration.”

The lawsuit says a New Orleans Police officer then arrived and escorted a tearful Mipro and her son to a police cruiser, past the parents waiting in the carpool line.

“Also present in this area,” the lawsuit says, “was defendant Jean Montes and defendant Board Member Paige A. Saleun, busily informing parents that Darleen Mipro was being charged with criminal misconduct and disturbing the peace.”

Though her son still attends the school, Mipro holds that she and her husband were both told they would be banned from school property.

Mipro started working at Lycée in August 2011. She taught at both Lusher Charter and Audubon Montessori prior to joining Lycée’s faculty.

“She’s an outstanding teacher,” said former Lycée Principal Jill Otis, describing Mipro as having “extensive qualifications,” especially in the areas of special education and gifted.

Otis, who was Lycée’s founding CEO and principal, resigned in March over the objections of some parents who voiced concern over the way the board handled her departure.

Mipro’s lawsuit includes pages of written conversations from a private Facebook account accessible only to people within the Lycée community in which teachers and parents discuss the scene they witnessed during Mipro’s dismissal.

When asked by The Lens to detail the misconduct and which policies or procedures were violated, Montes wrote in an email Tuesday, “I wish we could entertain your questions.  However, being personnel matters I am not able to address them at this time.”

Amy George-Hirons, parent of a Lycée kindergartener, said she saw Mipro at about 4 p.m. on Nov. 30, the day she was fired.

“She was not causing a scene in any way shape or form,” George-Hirons said. “I personally felt the letter they sent out to the school community was a violation of her right to privacy as a person.”

George-Hirons submitted a letter on Dec. 3 to the board of directors detailing the events she witnessed the day Mipro was fired. She said she’d arrived to pick up her son and noticed signs posted around the campus that read, “The Board is Killing Our School.” Then, she said, she saw a man pushing teachers out of the way so that he could pull down the signs.

George-Hirons said the situation is concerning. She described Mipro as “nothing but professional in dealing with me.”

Mipro was in the process of evaluating George-Hiron’s son for gifted services when all this happened. Now, she said, her son’s evaluation has been delayed and she hasn’t heard anything more about where things stand.

“There’s not anyone (else) on staff who can do that to my knowledge,” she said.

Mipro’s lawsuit accuses the school leaders of destroying her professional reputation. “As a result of the defamatory … statements by the defendants,” it states, “(Mipro) has sustained damage to her reputation as an educator and parent, such that … information circulated in the school systems would cast a false light on petitioner and influence and prevent her from being hired by another school.”

In its second year of operation, Lycée Français has struggled to maintain consistent leadership.

Two school leaders have resigned and just two of its original nine board members remain. In November, the board voted to cut $200,000 from its budget after learning of a $85,000 deficit.

Despite those issues, the school has also more than doubled in size since last fall to about 340 students this year.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated one of the police charges against Mipro. She has pleaded not guilty to disturbing the peace and criminal trespassing.

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