Education

Best-selling author is accused of homophobia, racism at school he co-founded in New Bern

The “Daily Beast” recently shared email messages that appear to show best-selling romance novelist Nicholas Sparks tried to ban a LGBT club and silence student protests at a Christian school he helped to found in New Bern.

Sparks is the author of such bestsellers as “The Notebook” and “A Walk to Remember.”

The email messages are at the center of an ongoing legal battle between Sparks and Saul Benjamin, the former headmaster and CEO of Epiphany School of Global Studies who sued Sparks and the school’s Board of Directors in 2014 over what he alleges was a “pattern of harassment, racism and homophobia.”

Sparks has denied the allegations.

Sparks explained the bad blood between he and Benjamin in a declaration to the court. He said Benjamin could be “aloof, even rude, elitist and dismissive of their beliefs or backgrounds” and that he was often dishonest when dealing with the board.

The “Daily Beast” reports the case is scheduled for a six-day trial in August.

The news and opinion website’s story highlights a chief complaint about the state’s Opportunity Scholarship (school voucher) program; that it  provides money to private schools that may discriminate based on race, gender, sexuality and religious affiliation.

Kathryn Marker, director of grants, training and outreach at the N.C. State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA), the agency that oversees the state’s voucher program, said the program’s participation agreement forbids discrimination on the basis of “race, color or national origin.”

The participation agreement does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

It mirrors federal law, which states: “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program, or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

In a column for Policy Watch last month, Lindsay Wagner, a senior writer and researcher at the NC Public School Forum, wrote that the state’s voucher program “makes public dollars accessible to private schools that are free to discriminate by turning away students who are gay or transgender, have disabilities, or who don’t subscribe to a religious doctrine.”

Meanwhile, public schools must accept any and all students regardless of their religious, ethnic and socioeconomic background.

Schools that fail to comply with NCSEAA rules are not eligible to receive future scholarship grants.

Twenty-seven students who attend Spark’s school this year received state Opportunity Scholarships.  The students received $109,200 in voucher awards.

Here’s a copy of one of Spark’s email messages the Daily Beast alleges Sparks sent to Benjamin:

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