A co-founder of KIPP, the largest charter school network in the country, has been fired over allegations of sexual misconduct with a child.
Michael Feinberg was accused of sexually abusing a student in the late 1990s— an allegation that surfaced this past spring, according to a statement put out by the charter network Thursday evening. KIPP Houston Public Schools and an independent law firm hired by the network investigated the allegations. KIPP officials also contacted Texas Child Protective Services.
Feinberg denies all allegations against him.
While the statement from KIPP states that neither investigation initiated by the network was able to definitively confirm that Feinberg abused a student, investigators did, however, “find the allegation to have credibility.”
KIPP has terminated our co-founder Mike Feinberg due to allegations of misconduct that run counter to our values. Please read our letter to KIPP families here: https://t.co/f5Dq0xslJd
— KIPP Schools (@KIPP) February 22, 2018
During the course of KIPP’s investigation of the misconduct involving a student, the network hired the law firm WilmerHale, which found two other misconduct allegations against Feinberg. Those were from two adult employees of KIPP Houston, both of whom had been students in the charter network. One reached a financial settlement. The other allegation could not be corroborated, according to KIPP officials.
Feinberg did not want to settle the lawsuit, according to his lawyer Chris Tritico. Tritico also said that WilmerHale was not the first law firm hired by KIPP to investigate the sexual abuse allegation from the 90s. And the first firm retained by KIPP found the allegation not to be credible.
“Mr. Feinberg is certainly very upset and saddened by the action of the KIPP board, after all he’s done with, and for, education and in founding KIPP Academy,” said Tritico. “They terminated him from his position, from the company that he founded, based on findings that said they didn’t confirm any allegations, yet they found credibility. Well that’s an impossible standard to defend against.”
In their statement posted on the network’s website Thursday, KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth and KIPP Houston Public Schools chief Sehba Ali said they understood the news would come as a “shock” to KIPP families and staff.
“In light of the nature of the allegations and the passage of time, critical facts about these events may never be conclusively determined,” the statement reads. “What is clear, however, is that, at a minimum, Mr. Feinberg put himself into situations where his conduct could be seriously misconstrued. We believe that Mr. Feinberg’s actions were incompatible with the leadership qualities that are central to our mission.”
It’s hard to overstate KIPP’s prominence in the charter school movement. The network helped pioneer the “no-excuses” college-prep charter school model defined by strict codes of student conduct and a laser focus on getting students into college.
Feinberg, along with his fellow Teach for America alumna David Levin, launched KIPP, or the Knowledge Is Power Program, in Houston in 1994, and then shortly thereafter took their school model to New York City.
KIPP has since grown into arguably the most successful charter school network in the country. Its track record on boosting test scores and college enrollment among the primarily low-income, minority students it serves, has helped turned the network into a national juggernaut. With 209 schools in more than two dozen cities, KIPP continues to expand.
The news of the allegations against Feinberg reverberated through the charter school and broader education community Thursday night. Some charter advocates expressed shock and at times disbelief on social media over the allegations against such a revered member of their movement.
I am heartbroken and angry. Heartbroken for @kippbigdog & his family, and angry that his years of service having saved so many lives and doing so much good does not permit giving him the benefit of the doubt or second chances. https://t.co/DKnZYCq5xu
— Jeanne Allen (@JeanneAllen) February 22, 2018
Sitting at home in WV, stunned by the KIPP announcement. But I’ll tell you this: If Mike Feinberg needs a character reference, sign me up. There are few greater heroes in American education than @kippbigdog.
— Nelson Smith (@NelsonSmith60) February 23, 2018
I don’t know the details of Mike Feinberg’s departure from KIPP, but I do know that for the past 25 years there hasn’t been a bigger champion or harder worker for education equality in America’s underprivileged neighborhoods.
— John Arnold (@JohnArnoldFndtn) February 23, 2018
It’s unclear what impact the allegations against Feinberg may have on KIPP. Just this past September, the network’s New York City chapter announced that it had hired an outside law firm to investigate decade-old claims there of sexual misconduct. In a letter informing students and parents about the allegations and pending investigation, KIPP officials did not say how many staff or students were involved, only that they were not currently with the network.
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Photo: Knowledge is Power Program co-founder Michael Feinberg speaks during the final session at the National Governors Association’s annual meeting in 2005, in Des Moines, Iowa. —Charlie Neibergall/AP-File
A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.