Embattled online charter school Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) is being accused of using taxpayer dollars given to them by the state based on full-time student enrollment to pay off employees for their silence.

According to Sandy Theis, a member of Ohio’s Charter School Accountability Project, six individuals have confirmed with her they were provided non-disclosure agreements (NDA) to sign when they parted ways with the charter school.

At least two of the six individuals signed the NDA as part of their severance package where they were provided some money as part of a layoff.

Two individuals refused to sign the NDA and received no severance.

What the remaining two individuals chose to do is still unknown.

The NDA included sections of legalese that would prevent them from making any disparaging remarks about the school or any of their services, as seen here:

  • “Non-Disparagement. You agree that you have not and will not make statements to anyone that are in any way disparaging or negative toward ECOT, including disparaging remarks about individuals associated with ECOT or the services it provides.”

Another section seeks to protect the school, its sponsor, and others from lawsuits, as seen here:

  • “Waiver & Release of Employment Claims. You, for yourself and your successors, assigns, heirs, agents and legal representatives, knowingly and voluntarily agree to waive and release ECOT, including its directors, officers, employees, representatives and agents, and its related, affiliate, and associated companies (including without limitation the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West and Altair Learning Management) (collectively, ‘Released Parties’), from any and all claims, causes of action, and liabilities of any kind, known or unknown, in law or in equity, that you had or have as of the effective date of this Agreement, and that are in any way connected with or arise out of your employment or the termination of your employment with ECOT, including but not limited to claims, causes of action and liabilities….”

These agreements, while commonplace in the private sector have no place in the public sector according to Stephen Dyer of Innovation Ohio.

“If taxpayer dollars are being misspent, or ill-gotten, we should find out about that immediately or as quickly as possible,” said Dyer.

Dyer says agreements like the NDA the employees were asked to sign are an impediment to transparency.

And that is why Dyer and Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio have filed an open records request with ECOT’s sponsor Educational Service Center Lake Erie West.

The request is seeking several things including:

  • A copy of all severance and release agreements from 2012 to 2017 that contained provisions that restricted former or current employees from impugning ECOT or officials connected with ECOT or any of the several companies associated with it, including ESC Lake Erie West.
  • A list of all former employees who signed the those agreements
  • And how much money ECOT paid former employees as part of the agreements

The group says, because ECOT was funded by the State the NDA in exchange for severance is yet another misuse of public tax dollars.

They also lament over Ohio having what they describe as some of the worst whistleblower laws in the country with the state ranking 47th out of 51 states and the District of Columbia.