McPhail disputes school's claim she lacked certification

Sharon McPhail appeared Tuesday in Wayne County Circuit Court for a hearing on a lawsuit filed against her by the conservator of Detroit Community Schools, where she was superintendent until last week.

Former Detroit City Council member Sharon McPhail, fired last week as superintendent of a charter school, is disputing her former employer's claim that she lacked certification as a school administrator.  

McPhail appeared Tuesday in Wayne County Circuit Court for a hearing on a request for an emergency restraining order against her by Nancy Berkompas, conservator of Detroit Community Schools.

Berkompas sued McPhail on Thursday and requested the restraining order to prohibit the fired superintendent from managing business operations at the school and requiring her to return its property. Berkompas alleges McPhail refused to leave the school after being fired Oct. 8.

Officials with the school, authorized by Bay Mills Community College, said McPhail was removed after refusing to obtain the proper state certification to be superintendent within three years of being hired in 2012.

In a response filed Tuesday, McPhail's attorneys, Elliott Hall, Mayer Morganroth and Daniel Harold, maintained she is certified.

Elliott Hall, left, and Mayer Morganroth, attorneys for Sharon McPhail, asked the court for a two-week recess so she and the conservator for Detroit Community Schools can negotiate a settlement to a lawsuit against her.

"McPhail and her counsel are at a complete loss in understanding Plaintiff's/Bay Mills Community College's basis for this motion and these proceedings as a whole because McPhail is certified; and McPhail does not have to be certified by the Michigan Department of Education from which she maintains a valid School Administrator Permit through Aug. 31, 2019," according to the legal brief.

In the legal brief, McPhail said she does have certification but that she has "never been responsible for instructional programs at Detroit Community Schools," adding  that "at no time during my employment has my job been to administer instructional programs."

Tuesday's hearing before Strong was adjourned until Oct. 30 to give both sides an opportunity to work out a settlement.

"We had a long meeting, both sides, and we decided at this point that we should postpone for two weeks ... so we can see if we can work something out," Morganroth said after the hearing. 

McPhail, who attended the hearing with her daughter, Erica, did not comment Tuesday on the case. Morganroth said there is no temporary restraining order against McPhail.

As part of their response to the lawsuit, McPhail's attorneys included a copy of her school administrator certification, which was obtained Sept. 13.

"Michigan law requires school administrators who oversee instruction or business operations to obtain certification by the state within three years of taking the position," according to Berkompas' lawsuit. "Rather than obtain school administration certification, however, Defendant attempted to obviate the legal requirements by misrepresenting and characterizing her role at the Academy."

Sharon McPhail, left, is comforted by her daughter, Erica, during a hearing Tuesday in Wayne County Circuit Court.

The school has incurred $200,000 in state fines as a result of McPhail's alleged "failure to comply" with state law to be credentialed, according to Berkompas' lawsuit.

State law mandates that school administrators hired before January 2010 are not required to hold administrator certification and those hired after that time must hold a valid administrator certificate or be enrolled in a program leading to such certification.

McPhail had held four different titles at the school: general counsel, chief business officer, chief administrative officer and school leader, which Berkompas' suit alleges was an attempt to evade the certification requirement. 

The school, founded in 1997, has 650 students in grades K-12.

Several supporters of McPhail attended Tuesday's hearing, saying the school's board hired McPhail knowing she didn't have certification.

Maureen Taylor, the state chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, said it would be "tragic" if McPhail is not allowed to continue on as head of the school, where students are "doing well."

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