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The school board of the Edison School of the Arts voted Tuesday to terminate the employment of Executive Director and CEO Nathan Tuttle effective immediately, following allegations that he used a racial slur when speaking to students earlier this month.
The board also voted to terminate its agreement with Indianapolis Public Schools for the arts school to expand by operating James Whitcomb Riley School 43, a move that was part of the district’s massive reorganization plan known as Rebuilding Stronger.
Tuttle faced allegations that he used a racial slur against a student earlier this month. Tuttle previously told Chalkbeat that he has never used a racial slur against a child, but spoke to a student who had used a racial slur and told that student not to.
But parents and staff claimed at the board meeting last week that Tuttle repeated the statement back to black students as he tried to explain to them what not to say.
The meeting to address the allegations last week boiled over into an hour-long public comment session with parents, students and staff describing a hostile work and learning environment under Tuttle and two members of his administration.
School staff alleged that many teachers had left the school, while students claimed that the administration created a culture of fear and silence.
In one of four resolutions passed at Tuesday’s meeting, the board determined that Tuttle “observed a student using racially inappropriate language and repeated the racially inappropriate language while attempting to discipline the student.”
The board also stated in its resolution that under Tuttle’s leadership, “a significant divide has developed between the students, parents, faculty and staff of the school.”
The board voted 4-0 to terminate Tuttle. Members Keesha Dixon and Ted Givens abstained, but did not state at the meeting their reasons for doing so.
Tuttle did not respond to a request for comment.
The board commented little on the resolutions during the meeting, but instead read each one into the minutes for voting.
The board also voted unanimously to appoint elementary principal Amy Berns as interim building administrator who will report directly to the board. Sheena Roach will serve as middle school principal.
In a fourth resolution, the board voted to conduct a review of all school policies and procedures regarding the use of racially inappropriate and offensive language, discipline of staff and students, and procedures for guests on campus.
Edison is an independent school within the IPS Innovation Network. It is one of the few innovation schools not run by a charter operator. Instead, it is run by a non-profit organization and a separate school board.
IPS signed an innovation agreement earlier this year for Edison to operate a second innovation campus at James Whitcomb Riley School 43.
In a statement, IPS said it agrees with the decision not to move forward with Edison’s expansion to School 43.
“We believe Edison’s board has responded to the feedback and concerns of staff and families and has taken appropriate and necessary steps to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for its students, staff and families,” the statement said. “As an IPS Innovation partner school, the district will continue to partner with the Edison community to provide support where needed.”
The IPS administration will work closely with School 43 staff, families and community members to find a “new path forward” for the 2023-24 school year, the district said.
Some parents and students argued at the meeting last week that two members of Tuttle’s administration, Principal of Residence James Hill and Director of Operations Vionta Jones, also contributed to the school’s hostile environment.
Board member Greg Wallis said the board will review the organizational chart for the school. He said after the meeting that concerns about other administrators will be handled through a grievance process the school has with a third-party staffing firm.
Hill and Jones declined to comment through a spokesperson at last week’s meeting and did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
The board will also create an “Edison Empowers” parent committee to hear from parents at the school, Wallis said at the meeting. The board also plans to listen to staff and student reports at each board meeting.
“The nature of these reports will hopefully transition to things of a positive nature to celebrate the successes and the great work that our students and our staff are doing,” Wallis said.
The board will also conduct a monthly staff review of new hires, resignations, terminations and reassignments “so the board has visibility into the kinds of things that are going on that were brought up at our last meeting,” Wallis said.
Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Marion County schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at [email protected].
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news organization covering public education.