The assets of the defunct Torchlight Academy charter school will be held in storage until a judge determines ownership, the school’s board of directors and the leader of its former management firm agreed Friday during a hearing in Wake County Superior Court.
Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins oversaw Friday’s hearing.
The management firm, Torchlight Academy Schools, LLC, and the board are in a dispute over ownership of certain assets in the wake of the State Board of Education closing the school for good due to egregious management and governance issues.
Torchlight’s board was granted a temporary restraining order last month to prevent the management firm and its owner Don McQueen from “taking, moving, secreting or destroying property” at the elementary and middle school.
The board also demanded that the management firm return two Ford Expeditions, 12 big-screen televisions and 23 laptops computers and tablets taken from the school between June 21-23.
Stephon Bowens, the board’s attorney, said the management firm agreed Friday to return the two SUVs but made no admission of having removed the televisions, laptops or other electronic equipment from the schools.
“The concern was that we wanted to make certain that property wouldn’t continue to be lost in some way pending resolution of who owns the property,” Bowens said.
McQueen, who was also the school’s longtime executive director, told Policy Watch that he welcomes the opportunity to settle the disagreement with his former employer.
“I always enjoy when we can resolve things without the courts being involved,” McQueen said. “I always think we should try to resolve things as community members and as family members. I think that’s what happened here today, at least we took a step in that direction.”
Torchlight Academy closed on June 30, following a rocky year dominated by headlines about McQueen’s mismanagement of the charter school. The school once enrolled more than 600 K-8 students.
The state board terminated Torchlight’s charter in March after a NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) investigation turned up serious fiscal and management concerns. Torchlight’s Board of Directors quickly fired the management firm and McQueen after learning about NCDPI’s concerns. The board has faced criticism for its poor oversight of the school’s affairs.
The NCDPI investigation found serious misconduct in the school’s special education program, which was led by McQueen’s daughter, Shawntrice Andrews. State records show Andrews altered students’ Individualized Education Program (IEP) documents in a student data management system monitored by the state, which is a violation of federal law. An IEP ensures students with disabilities receive specialized instruction and related services.
NCDPI records also show that the McQueens paid their son-in-law, Aaron Andrews, $20,000 per month to clean a portion of the school being used by the federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Center program, Policy Watch previously reported. Such centers provide children in high-poverty, low-performing schools academic help during non-school hours. Aaron Andrews’ custodial firm, Luv Lee Sanitation, was responsible for cleaning the six classrooms and common areas used exclusively by the program. The contract was signed by Cynthia McQueen.