Settlement in charter school whistle-blower suit

Posted: August 22, 2013

A former charter school administrator who alleged that she was wrongfully fired the day after the school was raided by federal agents has settled her whistle-blower suit.

Court documents show that Adorable Harper reached a settlement with Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School in Juniata Park this month. The terms were not disclosed.

In the suit, filed in Common Pleas Court, Harper maintained that she was fired in August 2009 because she had lodged a complaint with the Inspector General's Office of the U.S. Department of Education detailing "a pattern of criminal misuse of local, state, and federal funds" at the school.

A month after she e-mailed her allegations to a federal hotline, more than a dozen agents appeared at Community and a related nonprofit, and spent the day collecting documents and copying hard drives.

According to Harper's suit, when the agents arrived, a staffer from the Inspector General's Office approached Anna Duvivier, the school's chief operating officer, and asked, "Where is Adorable Harper?"

Harper raised her hand. The next day she was fired by Duvivier and Joseph Proietta, the school's founder and chief executive officer.

Proietta, Duvivier, and the school denied Harper's allegations. They said in court filings that her position was eliminated and that she was laid off because of an impasse over the state budget.

On Tuesday, Proietta referred questions to Jonathan L. Swichar, a lawyer for the school. Swichar declined to comment on the settlement. Harper and her attorneys did not return calls.

A 1999 Community Academy graduate, Harper became an assistant chief operating officer at the school. She also was employed by One Bright Ray, a related nonprofit that owns the school's building.

Harper's suit, filed in January 2010, was put on hold the following April pending the outcome of the federal investigation.

Proietta and Duvivier requested the stay because they said the suit would compromise their ability to defend themselves in that probe. No charges have been filed.

This spring, Harper's attorneys persuaded the court to allow the case to proceed, despite objections from Community Academy's lawyers, who said in documents, "It is beyond refute that the federal criminal investigation" of the charter is active.

The school, which enrolls 1,235 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, is fighting for its survival.

The School Reform Commission took the first step toward closing the school in January when it voted not to renew its operating charter because of poor academics and financial problems.

During a hearing this summer, Community Academy made its case for remaining open. The SRC is expected to take a final vote in coming months.


Contact Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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