Schools
 

Ethics panel upholds nepotism ruling against charter school CEO

The state Ethics Adjudicatory Board will not reconsider its ruling that Doris Hicks, CEO of charter school network the Friends of King Schools, repeatedly violated state anti-nepotism laws.

This summer, a panel of three administrative law judges found Hicks violated the law by employing her sister and son-in-law at the charter network and by contracting with her daughter as a paid consultant.

The panel also found that Hicks’ sister, daughter and son-in-law violated ethics and nepotism laws.

Hicks was ordered to resign from Friends of King and pay a $20,000 fine. Her relatives must also pay fines.

Hicks’ attorney, Willie Zanders Sr., requested a rehearing. Last week, the board denied that request. Now, Zanders said in an email, he will take the Hicks’ case to the state’s First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge.

“That court will be asked to allow Dr. Hicks to remain at work while they review the unfair decision,” Zanders wrote.

In July, Zanders said Monique Cook, Hicks’ daughter, and Iris Ponson, her sister, remained employed by the network.

“With due respect to the judges who ruled against her, I believe the law is on our side,” Zanders wrote in an email. “Therefore, we must continue fighting for Dr. Hicks and to remove the fines against my three clients who were not removed by the Administrative Law Judges.”

Zanders has said that Hicks plans to retire in December. The longtime educator fought to reopen her Lower 9th Ward school after Hurricane Katrina.

In July, after the ruling was issued, an Orleans Parish school district spokesman said the district would monitor the request for reconsideration until a final decision had been reached. The district did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The Lens reported that Hicks had hired six of her relatives in 2013. In October 2014, the state board of ethics filed formal complaints against Hicks and three of her relatives, alleging they had violated state nepotism law.

At a public hearing in February, a lawyer for the ethics board argued Hicks should be fired from her position.

The judges issued their written opinion in June, more than three-and-a-half years after charges were filed.

Hicks’ is not the only ethics case involving New Orleans school leaders that has dragged on for years. Another charter school leader, whose case is still unresolved, had charges filed against her in 2012.

In a more recent incident, this spring, after learning a charter CEO in Jefferson had hired his brother, the state Department of Education ordered either one of the two to resign. The ethics board has not filed charges in that case.  In recent years, the department has adopted anti-nepotism policies similar to state laws that were already on the books.

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.