An attorney for Epic Charter Schools issued a “cease and desist demand” letter to a state senator who has been raising questions about the legality of the school’s student attendance practices.
The move by the state’s largest virtual charter school against Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, comes one week after Epic called for an investigation of Sharp by Oklahoma Senate leadership — a request that went nowhere.
“You are hereby put on notice to CEASE AND DESIST ALL DEFAMATION OF EPIC, ITS STAFF AND FALSE ACCUSATIONS RELATED TO THE SCHOOL,” Epic attorney William Hickman wrote to Sharp in a letter dated Tuesday, also putting that capitalized passage in bold type.
“Epic has learned that you have engaged in publishing, disseminating or otherwise promoting false, destructive, defamatory, and baseless allegations about the School. Your allegations are baseless and without merit. Under Oklahoma law, it is unlawful to defame another by libel or slander.”
Hickman gave Sharp seven days to agree to “cease and desist” and publish a retraction of his statements or face “immediate legal action” by Epic.
“Epic serves nearly 1,500 students in your senate district, which represents thousands of families and friends,” Hickman wrote to Sharp in closing.
Sharp released Hickman’s letter to the media on Wednesday.
“It is troubling that a public school receiving public money does not understand that every penny of tax payer dollars is subject to scrutiny. There are no protections available from this oversight,” Sharp said in a statement to the Tulsa World. “If it can be explained, the use of tax dollars is permissible by statute. If such use of tax dollars cannot be properly accounted for, there are questions to be asked.”
The school has accused Sharp of defamation of the school and “intentional misrepresentation of legal guidance given to him by two state agencies.”
In a news release issued Sept. 10, Epic vowed to request an investigation by Oklahoma Senate leadership into the propriety of Sharp’s using Senate staff to issue news releases the school believes to be defamatory.
But a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said at the time: “The Senate has no plans for an investigation at this time.”
In mid-July, Sharp issued the first in a series of news releases questioning how Epic could have received millions of dollars in state funding the previous two years for 3,000 to 4,000 students in middle and high school when the Epic Blended Learning Centers in which they were enrolled could be attended only by students in early education and elementary school grades.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has an ongoing probe into allegations of embezzlement, obtaining money by false pretenses, racketeering and forgery at Epic.
And as the Tulsa World previously reported, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Education’s law enforcement arm have also been investigating Epic Charter Schools’ student enrollment practices and finances for the past several years.
In response to the law enforcement investigations, Gov. Kevin Stitt requested an investigative audit of Epic Charter Schools and its related entities by the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s Office.