The former principal of John F. Kennedy High School is suing the school’s governing charter group and a whistleblower whose initial allegations of grade changing prompted investigations, scrutiny and revealed a graduation scandal involving the class of 2019.
Brian Gibson was hired as Kennedy’s principal in the summer of 2018 for the 2018-19 school year. The lawsuit said he was terminated in May of 2019, as revelations about the problems at the school were emerging. The New Beginnings Schools Foundation, the charter group that runs Kennedy, announced at the time that Gibson, along with four other administrators, were “no longer employees” but would not confirm that he was fired.
Former New Beginnings employee Runell King, the whistleblower named in the suit, first brought allegations of improper grade inflation at the school to The Lens in March 2019. King alleged that he was fired after bringing the issue to the attention of his bosses at the charter group.
Gibson’s lawsuit, however, alleges that King “orchestrated and alleged an improper/inappropriate grade adjustment scheme” at the high school and that he “recklessly and in bad faith” implicated Gibson.
The suit argues two initial investigations into King’s allegations did not support his claims and he was subsequently fired for other reasons. Then, the lawsuit argues, King sought media attention.
After King went public, the lawsuit states, “NBSF decided in bad faith to cut bait and terminate the entire leadership based on unsupported unsubstantiated allegations of improper/inaccurate adjustments and and policy violations without merit causing irreparable injury, loss and damage” to Gibson.
Gibson’s dismissal letter, attached to the lawsuit, stated “during the investigation, it became clear that you engaged in activities that violated your duties to students and violated school policies and procedures as it relates to grading and grade adjustments.”
That letter was dated May 24, 2019, one week after graduation, the same day Kennedy’s charter group board chair Raphael Gang announced Gibson’s departure along with four other administrators.
“We were presented with strong evidence of improper conduct by members of our staff and we took decisive action,” Gang wrote at the time. “As of today, the principal and four members of the JFK Leadership Team are no longer employees of NBSF.”
Just a few weeks later, students would learn that about half the senior class had not been eligible to graduate because they weren’t offered the correct classes or properly supervised courses, among other problems.
In September, a district investigation revealed there had been a “second grade change scheme” reported in May 2019. What the district described as the “second alleged grade change scheme” in its five-page final report went much deeper than a handful of altered grades and the three-paragraph description of it in the report.
An internal investigation by a team of attorneys working for New Beginnings was never released, and the group has never publicly detailed exactly why he or the other administrators were fired. Gibson is seeking the remainder of his pay for last school year and other damages.
Gibson’s lawsuit against New Beginnings Schools Foundation comes roughly one month before the charter group will hand over the contract for Kennedy and its other school and cease to operate schools.
His lawyer Kenya Rounds said the petition stood for itself and they would offer no further comment at this time.
King is also suing the charter group for his termination.
King’s attorney Galen Hair said Gibson’s allegations won’t hold up.
“Now that I’ve had an opportunity to read everything the allegations are clearly false. It’s going to be vigorously defended,” he said in a Tuesday interview.
“Typically it’d be wise to subscribe to the maxim ‘Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house.’ And he lives in a very glass house,” Hair said.
In 2016, Gibson was suspended with pay amid a cheating probe at another city high school and state Inspector General’s investigation into test scores, made public by nola.com.
Gang said New Beginnings couldn’t comment on pending litigation.