Online Charter School CEO Sues Daily News


     PHILADELPHIA (CN) - The founder and CEO of an online charter school claims in court that the Philadelphia Daily News defamed him by calling his operation "a virtual disaster."
     John Craig, of suburban Philadelphia, claims the Daily News wrongly portrayed him as an incompetent, "shady educator" in two articles criticizing his Frontier Virtual Charter High School.
     He sued Philadelphia Media Network Inc. and Daily News reporter David Gambacorta, in the Court of Common Pleas.
     A front-page headline on the March 14 Daily News stated: "Worst. School. Ever. How a Local Cyber Charter Is Burning Your Money," Craig says in his complaint.
     One that day, Craig claims, Gambacorta "purported to report on the results of the charter school investigation ... by authoring an article entitled 'A Virtual Disaster: Cyber-school kids truant, failing; teachers dumped.'"
     Gambacorta wrote that the school, which was supposed to teach about 300 students, educated only 54 students, Craig says in the complaint.
     The article "contended that the Frontier Cyber School quickly developed the kind of financial problems that prevented it from paying its teachers their full salaries for almost three months, and only allowed it to pay them half salaries thereafter, and that the school's bills have gone unpaid," the complaint states.
     The article also claimed that school staffers were concerned about whether Craig and the school's Board of Trustees had violated the Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law by doing business privately, according to the lawsuit.
     The piece "generally suggested that the plaintiff's cyber school was a 'virtual disaster' because plaintiff Craig was a 'shady educator' who financially and educationally mismanaged the Frontier Cyber School, that plaintiff Craig's explanations for the school's problems seemed questionable, and that the plaintiff might have violated the 'Sunshine Law,'" the complaint states.
     "The defendants claimed that information uncovered during their investigations directly refuted plaintiff Craig's claims about the operation and health of the school and its student attendance, thus suggesting that he was not truthful and forthcoming."
     But Craig says, "the school had only been open a short while and he had not mismanaged the Frontier Cyber School."
     A second article, published April 6, claimed that Craig had laid off all the school's staff and left students "twisting in the wind, like tattered plastic bags caught on the edge of a tree branch," according to the complaint.
     That article, headlined, "Final Frontier: Charter School stiffs employees, kids," reported that a state official claimed that the school had impeded an investigation by providing incomplete or delayed responses to requests for information, Craig claims.
     Craig seeks damages for defamation, privacy invasion and false light.
     He is represented by Adrian Moody, with Moody, Shields, Mincey and Fitzpatrick.