Henry McNair, the principal of College Achieve Paterson Charter School, started a Saturday School program at his previous school, now-defunct Newark Prep Charter School, in the 2015-16 school year. His program was staffed by teachers who did not go through required background checks, according to a lawsuit filed in New Jersey Superior Court.
McNair was told the teachers that he hired personally for the Saturday School did not fill out proper paperwork for criminal background checks, says the lawsuit filed by Hilarie Frank, former human resources director for Newark Prep Charter School. He delayed and complained rather than address the matter.
“McNair’s repeated failure to address the missing documents for employees that he had influence in hiring and then circumventing such process that was implemented to protect students displays his belief that he was not obligated to comply with State Laws,” says the lawsuit.
Saturday School teachers were also not screened for tuberculosis (TB) as required by state law, according to the lawsuit.
Hired his friend without background check
Frank accuses McNair of hiring his friend, Shawn Davis, as the school’s academic coach in 2015-16 by bypassing the usual hiring process. Davis did not submit a proof of fingerprint appointment or an official criminal history letter. He began working immediately at Newark Prep, according to the lawsuit.
Frank sent emails to Davis to submit documents to comply with state rules. She never received a response, forcing her to take up the issue with McNair.
McNair was “not willing” to take any steps to resolve the issue, says the lawsuit. Once McNair realized the lack of paperwork would be disclosed to the New Jersey Department of Education during an audit of Newark Prep, he acted.
Davis “would have to take a hit on this one,” McNair told Frank. Davis eventually submitted his criminal history letter, according to the lawsuit.
McNair did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Music teacher resigns
In one case, McNair had a certified music teacher scheduled to teach a public speaking class. The teacher filed a complaint with human resources. She eventually resigned because her teaching certificate was being jeopardized by the Newark Prep’s “devious practices,” according to the lawsuit.
Teaching without state certifications
Frank began to investigate whether there were other teachers in the Newark Prep instructing classes they were not certified to teach. She found a math class that was taught by a person without a New Jersey Department of Education certification or even a substitute license, says the lawsuit.
Another teacher was teaching social studies without a state certification or even a substitute teaching certification.
Nurse without qualifications
The Newark school had other significant problems. For example, Frank found in the 2013-14 school year, the school’s nurse, Tracy Jenkins, did not have a school nurse certificate. She told Patrick Byrne, founder of Newark Prep, who dismissed the complaints and instead told her to focus on keeping the nurse employed by getting her an emergency certification from the New Jersey Department of Education.
Jenkins tried to get an emergency certification. She learned that a bachelor’s degree is required for an emergency certification.
The nurse had an associate degree and a registered nurse license, making her “completely ineligible” to be a school nurse, says the lawsuit. The founder kept her as school nurse until the 2015-16 school year.
“The leaders of the school did not care about the safety of the children and were content with overlooking state regulations,” says the lawsuit.
The nurse was responsible for administering TB injections to new teachers. In one case, Jenkins allegedly told a new teacher, “If you had TB, you would know it,” according to the lawsuit. She did not administer the injection to the new teacher.
Frank complained to McNair. The new teacher started the job without being screened for TB in violation of state law, says the lawsuit.
She alleges in her lawsuit the school refused to test students under the influence of drugs because it would have to be reported to the state.
Just before Thanksgiving in 2014, the state had scheduled inspections of the school. Byrnes told Frank to be careful of what she told state investigators.
Byrnes provided documents of Jenkins’ admission to a college in case investigators inquired about the nurse’s qualifications. Previously, Frank arranged the nurse to attend college. The nurse never finished her college courses, says the lawsuit.
When inspectors arrived at the school, Byrne sat next to Frank in her office for most of the day and did not leave her side to ensure she did not reveal anything to the investigators. In fear of losing her job, Frank complied with Byrne’s instruction and did not speak to investigators, her lawsuit says.
On Feb. 4, 2016, McNair, who worked at the school from 2015 to 2017, called a meeting to tell staff the school had been placed on probation for poor academic performance, insufficient special education services, and board of trustees’ failure to govern the school efficiently.
Frank was told the school would not renew her contract. She would be out of a job on Jun. 30, 2016 due to budget cuts. At the same time, McNair and other officials at the school received double digit raises, says the lawsuit.
McNair hired at College Achieve Paterson Charter School
The state ultimately closed the school for failure effective Jun. 30, 2017. McNair was hired to lead the College Achieve Paterson Charter School for $123,600 the next day.
McNair’s track record has disturbed education advocates and activists in Paterson.
“All of this was on his watch. College Achieve at this needs to do the right thing,” said former school board member Corey Teague, a critic of charter schools. “How much worse does it need to be for them to say this guy is not a good look for our school? For him to just bring in teachers without background checks is extremely careless and could have put children’s safety at jeopardy. You could have a child molester in your school and you won’t know.”
Inquiry launched into allegations against McNair
“We’re launching an inquiry into the matter as new allegations have come to light that date prior to his tenure with us. We are committed to gathering all the facts to act responsibly and will not rush to judgement,” said Naush Boghossian, spokeswoman for the College Achieve network of charter schools. “During his 18 months at our school, there have been no issues with his performance, and he has been an effective leader.”
McNair will continue to serve while the inquiry is taking place, said Boghossian.
“It annoys me when folks think charter schools are so much better than public schools, when it’s not. I believe that some, not all charter schools, are scams and from what you are saying this one might be too,” said Linda Reid, president of the Paterson Education Organizing Committee (PEOC), an advocacy group. “Before a parent enroll their child in a charter school, they should do their research, and not just go off the hype. Just because it sounds good doesn’t mean it is.”
The lawsuit was filed on Feb. 23, 2017. It was “Settled By Mediation,” according to court records.
Frank’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comments.
“How do I know you are not doing that now?” asked Teague speaking of McNair.