EDITOR’S NOTE: The EPIC News Network is a statewide student journalism program funded by Epic Charter Schools.
OKLAHOMA CITY – EPIC Charter Schools filed a lawsuit Tuesday against state Senator Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, for defamation and libel.
The lawsuit, filed in Oklahoma County District Court, said Sharp has continued to make false, misleading and inaccurate statements about the school. The lawsuit said Sharp’s statements – often made is press releases issued by the senator – have exposed the school’s staff, teachers, parents and students to “public hatred, contempt and ridicule; and, Sharp’s statements have tended to deprive the plaintiff of public confidence in its mission.”
The suit also alleges that Sharp’s statements have injured EPIC. Records show the EPIC school board voted unanimously Oct. 19 to file the suit.
“Because Mr. Sharp knowingly and intentionally published false statements about our school that he has refused to retract, as a board, we feel no option exists other than defending our school, staff and the families we serve from malicious defamation,” board members said in a joint statement. “Just because an individual is elected to the Oklahoma State Legislature, does not make them above the law.”
Tuesday Sharp told the Oklahoman newspaper the lawsuit was ‘bizarre.’
“There are questions to be asked,” Sharp said to the newspaper. “That’s my job as a state senator is to ask those questions.”
He also told the newspaper he wanted to get to the bottom of the way Epic counts enrollment at its blended centers.
The lawsuit said Sharp’s statements were not privileged “as they were not made in the discharge of an official duty and the law does not put any elected officials above the law.”
Under the Oklahoma Constitution, a speech by a state lawmaker, when made on the floor of either body during the legislative session, is protected from legal action.
EPIC’s lawsuit said Sharp issued a media statement on Aug. 26 which said the Virtual Charter School Board had verified the school was not following law regarding enrollment practices.
Sharp, the lawsuit said, “knew or should have known that this statement was a lie at the time he intentionally published (the) statement and making false accusations is beyond the scope of any duty of any public official.”
Bart Banfield, EPIC’s superintendent, said Sharp’s actions injured the school and the exhibits attached with the lawsuit “show how Sharp was advised by two state agencies – prior to him publishing false statements about EPIC – that his assertions of specific fraudulent operations of EPIC were false.”
“Despite that guidance, Sharp decided to lie about the two state agencies’ guidance to him and proceeded with defaming EPIC by publishing false statements carried by numerous media outlets,” Banfield said in a statement.
The school is seeking damages in excess of $75,000. The lawsuit has been assigned to District Judge Cindy Truong.