This story was updated on July 12, 2023 to reflect personnel updates following the March 14, 2023 meeting.
The school board for Edison School of the Arts voted on Tuesday to terminate the employment of executive director and CEO Nathan Tuttle immediately, following allegations that he used a racial slur when speaking with students earlier this month.
The board also voted to terminate its agreement with Indianapolis Public Schools for the arts school to expand by running 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 he has never used a racial slur toward a child, but was speaking to a student who had used a racial slur and told that student not to do so.
But parents and staff claimed in the board meeting last week that Tuttle repeated the slur back to Black students as he was trying to explain to them what they should not say.
The meeting to address the allegations last week boiled over into an hourslong public comment session with parents, students, and staff describing a hostile working and learning environment under Tuttle and two members of his administration.
School employees alleged many teachers had left the school, while students claimed the administration created a culture of fear and silence.
In one of four resolutions passed at the meeting on Tuesday, the board determined that Tuttle “observed a student using racially inappropriate language and repeated the racially inappropriate language while trying to discipline the student.”
The board also determined in its resolution that under Tuttle’s leadership, “a significant divide has developed among 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 in the meeting their reasons for doing so.
Tuttle did not respond to a request for comment.
The board made little comment about the resolutions during the meeting, instead reading each one into the record for a vote.
The board also unanimously voted to appoint elementary school Principal Amy Berns as the 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, employee and student discipline, and procedures for guests on campus.
Edison is an autonomous 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 nonprofit and its own 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 from staff and families and has taken the 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 walk alongside the Edison community to provide support where needed.”
IPS administration will work closely with School 43 staff, families, and community members to determine a “new path forward” for the 2023-24 school year, the district said.
Some parents and students claimed at the meeting last week that two members of Tuttle’s administration, Principal in Residence James Hill and Director of Operations Vionta Jones, also contributed to the school’s hostile environment.
Board member Greg Wallis said that 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 human resources firm.
Hill and Jones declined to comment through a spokesperson at last week’s meeting and did not respond to an email request for comment.
In July, the school told Chalkbeat in a statement that its investigation was focused solely on Tuttle and no formal human resources complaints were filed about other staff members before or after the March meeting. Per the statement, the board did not renew its contract with Hill because his role was to lead School 43 in an expansion that was no longer happening. Jones remains as director of operations.
The school said its board is considering next steps for the CEO position.
The board will also create an “Edison Empowers” parent committee to hear from parents in the school, Wallis said at the meeting. The board also plans to listen to staff and student reports at every board meeting.
“The nature of these reports hopefully will move to things of a positive nature celebrating the successes and the great work that our students and that our staff do,” Wallis said.
The board also will conduct a monthly personnel review of new hires, resignations, terminations, and reassignments “so that the board has visibility to those types of things that are happening that were raised at our last meeting,” Wallis said.
Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Marion County schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at email@example.com.