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State lawmakers are currently pushing for a massive expansion of a program that provides public money to pay private school tuition. Critics say the move is devastating to public education. Furthermore, a report on discrepancies in program data led to a recent acknowledgment that at least one school collected state money for students who weren’t enrolled.

A strange coda to the TAS Academy saga

This church in a Harrisburg shopping center is the new location for Teaching Achieving Students Academy, which has changed addresses several times.
Ann Doss Helms
This church in a Harrisburg shopping center is the new location for Teaching Achieving Students Academy, which has changed addresses several times.

This article originally appeared in WFAE reporter Ann Doss Helms' weekly education newsletter. To get the latest school news in your inbox first, sign up for our email newsletters here.

After months of looking for Teaching Achieving Students Academy, a private school that gets state voucher money but didn’t seem to have a location, I found it on March 6. That’s when I walked into a storefront church in Harrisburg, the most recent of seven addresses for the school, and found a small group of students in class. I did a story and figured that was the end of it.

But when I came to the WFAE studio last week, I found a “cease and desist” letter from headmistress Fanisha Locke. The letter, dated March 6, said that my actions “seem to cross the line into activities that are defined as stalking, communicating threats, and phone and internet harassment under North Carolina law.”

Like everything about my encounters with Locke and TAS Academy, it was a bit surreal. I’ve called Locke repeatedly because she never answered my questions but never declined to speak, instead putting me off time and time again. I’ve emailed for the same reason.

During our March 6 encounter, I walked through two sets of unlocked doors and found Locke working with a small group of students. Because I had my recorder going the whole time, I can be precise about what happened: I stood in the doorway of the classroom for 13 seconds, moving back outside the building when Locke indicated I should do so. There was no physical contact. And while it was clear Locke wasn’t happy to see me there, there were no threats or harsh words on either side. She asked me to leave but concluded with, “Thank you. Now you know where we are. You can call me next time.” The encounter was over in 45 seconds — except that Locke reopened the outer doors to say, “You have a good one.” I replied, “Thank you. You too.”

There are so many ironies here. For starters, if I hadn’t walked into the classroom I’d have reported that once again, TAS Academy had listed an address that didn’t seem to house a school. By finding Locke in action with students, I could provide some evidence that this school was more than a mailing address for state checks.

Then there’s the fact that it took more than a week for the letter to reach me because … well, I can be hard to locate. WFAE has two offices, in the UNC Charlotte area and uptown, and I mostly work from home or in the field. The difference is that there’s ample evidence that I’m covering education for WFAE, and I’ll happily explain the arrangement to anyone who asks. Had Locke simply answered my initial questions, I’d have had no reason to go looking for her school.

And finally, the letter requested that I “cease all written communication, in-person contact, and internet communication … effective immediately.” Two paragraphs later, it asked me to acknowledge receipt of the letter.

Education Education
Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.