Teacher Dearest

The free market alone was supposed to control charter schools, but the state is stepping in to clean up Gail Battistella's mess at Dragonfleye Charter School

McNally claims he only wanted a copy of Miller's employment contract, which would be a matter of public record, and that Coleman refused to turn it over. "I asked her nicely," McNally says. "I was never abusive."

On April 17, after two written reprimands, after offering a resignation deal, Greg Miller and the Dragonfleye board fired Battistella. Aside from the outbursts and the insubordination and the failure to run the lab, which was her primary job, they alleged that she had breached confidentiality by sharing her notes on students and staff with some of the school parents whom she saw as allies.

But Battistella refused to leave.
The next day she posted a note on the bulletin board announcing that she had dissolved the Dragonfleye organizational board and appointed a new one that would meet the next day.

Miller was stunned by her audacity.
When she still refused to leave the building, Miller called the police and had her escorted off campus. Then he took out restraining orders against Battistella and three sets of parents closely allied with her.

"The next two weeks were the quietest we ever had," Miller says. It was the quiet before the storm.

Once out of the board's sight, Battistella froze the school's bank accounts, and on May 6, she had Miller called into Northwest Justice court to contest the restraining orders against her and the parents named in the injunction.

When Miller showed up, he was surprised to see that Battistella was accompanied by her lawyer. He called his own, but to little avail. Battistella's paperwork was perfectly in order.

The State Board of Education had entered into its charter-school contract with Dragonfleye Science, Inc., and the articles of incorporation registered with the Corporation Commission showed that Dragonfleye Science, Inc., had just three directors: Battistella, Jan Bingham and Mike Kiedrowski. Whether the names of the other school founders had been left off the paperwork intentionally or by accident, Miller had no valid legal claim to Dragonfleye in the eyes of the court.

John Barclay, the justice of the peace, ruled that Battistella was a rightful owner of the school's charter, and he likened Miller's actions to a South American coup d'etat.

"My understanding of the present charter-school laws are the following," Barclay told the courtroom. "If Mr. Gregory Miller thinks that Ms. Battistella is going to have chaos wherever she goes, then he has a right to form his own school and take all those unhappy students from Ms. Battistella away and have them sign up at his school."

And that is basically what Mr. Gregory Miller did.
As for whether Battistella was qualified to run the school, Barclay later told New Times, "She probably has a personality problem, but I wasn't ruling on her personality. I wasn't ruling on whether her teachers liked her."

Judge Barclay's ruling burned up the telephone lines, and teachers and parents on both sides of the debate raced to the school. What happened next is open to argument.

The teachers who had backed Greg Miller claim that they had only taken their personal belongings, but Battistella's lawyer, Kevin Ahern, says that when he returned to the school after the justice court hearing, there were cars backed up to the school doors and adults were carrying boxes and boxes of books and papers out of the school and putting them in cars. Inside, he claims, they were looting the school.

"When they left, there was nothing on this campus," Battistella says. "They took the world globe. They tore toilets off the wall. Some classrooms didn't have a book, didn't have a piece of curriculum left, nothing."

Battistella and her parents took photographs of the destruction. One of her exhibit photos shows about 10 computers lined up on a floor, and she claims it as evidence that the renegade teachers tried to steal everything they could.

"Those computers had been lined up from the day they were donated," says Lon Brouse. "Gail took all donations and put them into a locked back room that only she controlled. So those pictures and most everything else she presented was a lie."

But in fact, parents or teachers took most of the school's student, personnel and financial records, whole file cabinet drawers at a time.

And everyone behaved badly. Ahern recalls seeing one teacher push a police officer out of her way, place a box of materials in her car, start the car and nearly run him over despite his orders to the contrary.

Michael McNally, one of the parents who had been subject to the restraining order, allegedly strutted around saying that no one could keep him off the school grounds. He found his daughter's teacher--he and his wife had long complained that the teacher gave too much homework--followed her into a room and let her know that he'd gathered a tidbit or two about her past employment. She still believes he was given access to her employment records.

McNally claims that the information was on letters that students found while cleaning out her room.

"No one got to her records," he says. "I respect confidentiality."
Days later, when they learned that records had been taken from the school by the exiting teachers and students, Miller and Brouse and Marie Coleman all claim that they asked the offending parents and teachers to bring that material to Miller's attorney and that the materials were returned to Battistella.

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