In 2006, author Nicholas Sparks helped co-found a prep school in North Carolina, the Epiphany School of Global Studies, which seeks to become a “faith-based academy focused on world issues with an emphasis on language-learning, regular visits to other nations, and a shared understanding that ‘learning about the world’ was an integral part of 21st-century life.
The school, which has a student body of only 500, also seeks to promote Judeo-Christian values.
Since 2014, legal documents reveal that Sparks and the board of trustees of the school have been battling the former CEO and headmaster, Saul Benjamin, who alleges the school engaged in many forms of bigotry.
Benjamin’s attorneys alleged: “Sparks and members of the Board unapologetically marginalized, bullied, and harassed members of the School community, whose religious views and/or identities did not conform to their religiously driven, bigoted preconceptions.”
Even though Benjamin alleges that the writer engaged in many forms of racial discrimination against black students, he doesn’t have evidence and only claims that Sparks attributed the lack of black students.
Benjamin also said that one of the board members said to him she avoids a Wal-Mart staffed by black people. He also said he was subjected to ‘unwelcome comments and increased scrutiny’ when he employed the first full-time black faculty member.
The only evidence presented is an email in which Sparks tells Benjamin about his plans to create a scholarship program for diversity.
“If you want to talk to someone about diversity, talk to Jenna (who’s designing the diversity scholarship program) or me (who will be responsible for raising the money to fund the scholarship program once Jenna has designed it),” stated the email.
But according to a report: “The incident seeded tension among the student body and staff. Rumor spread that Benjamin had formed what Sparks called a “gay club,” and the Board of Trustees insisted the club be banned. Two bisexual teachers approached administrators about the group, and were allegedly threatened with termination if they continued to discuss the issue, according to Benjamin’s complaint.
“It further alleges that at a board meeting on Oct. 30, 2013, a Board of Trustees member claimed Benjamin was “promoting a homosexual culture and agenda.” Sparks allegedly warned Benjamin against pushing the subject, suggesting it would be “wasting time on a side issue,” according to the complaint.
“By November, resentments were running high. That month, Benjamin states in his complaint that two LGBT students approached Benjamin and informed him of their plan to stage a protest during chapel. They planned to remove their clothes and announce their orientation in body paint.
“Benjamin says he asked the girls not to protest, claiming it “was a time for healing, not heroics.” Instead, in the Friday morning Chapel Talk, a weekly tradition at the school, Benjamin spoke about bullying, and the school’s commitment to “loving their neighbors.”
Sparks expressed frustration and anger with Benjamin. He said in an email: “I told you this would happen… if you didn’t follow our advice, which was simply ‘don’t rock the boat on this particular issue.’” He later advised him to make sure “all Christian traditions feel especially Christian, especially as we move into the Christmas season.”
In another email, the romance novelist noted that the school let LGBT students attend but didn’t want them to form a club as it would violate the school’s beliefs.
The tensions resulted in Benjamin being fired from his position as CEO and headmaster. He then filed a lawsuit alleging breach of contract, discrimination, defamation and emotional distress.
Sparks denied all the allegations brought against the Epiphany School of Global Studies, saying Benjamin lost his job for being “aloof, even rude, elitist and dismissive of their beliefs or backgrounds.” He also said that Benjamin intentionally attempted to start an LGBT club.
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