The private school company suing Andover for $4 million accused the town of an “egregious refusal to follow the rules” by hiding information in the trial’s discovery phase, according to a motion filed in U.S. District Court in Boston last month.
“The Town has violated multiple legal norms by answering as it has,” Fusion Academy LLC said in its July 24 brief.
Fusion claims the Town only provided answers to integratory questions from the select board, which had no direct role when the school committee denied two Fusion applications to open a school in Andover. The 2021 complaint names the school committee, Town of Andover d/b/a Andover School Department d/b/a Andover Public Schools, two former superintendents and a former assistant superintendent.
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“For every interrogatory, the Town answered solely for its select board. The result is that information clearly known to Town employees, or former Town employees, remains hidden from Fusion,” the brief said. “The Town understood, immediately upon an initial read of the interrogatories, that the select board had no information whatsoever and that Fusion was not seeking to explore the knowledge of that board. Notwithstanding this understanding, the Town unilaterally chose to restrict the scope of its answers so as to make them useless.”
Among other claims, Fusion says administrators and school committee members broke the state open meeting law by orchestrating denials of applications in 2018 and 2019 behind closed doors. Fusion says its First Amendment rights were violated when the school committee denied its two applications to open a school in Andover and is seeking $4 million in lost building and lease fees, revenue, interest and attorney fees in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston after having two applications to open a private school in Andover.
By policy, the Town and Andover Public Schools do not comment on active litigation. In its July 31 response to Fusion’s motion to compel, the Town said it had already answered 36 integratories, and would have to answer 18 additional integratories if the court grants Fusion’s motion to compel.
“The Town of Andover denies that it violated any of Fusion’s rights under federal or state law and maintains that this action is nothing more than an attempt by Fusion to recover the $2 million it spent on a lease and build-out expenses.” the Town said.
Until the dispute, the Town and Fusion had exchanged thousands of pages of documents and completed 20 depositions without issue, Fusion said in its motion. The discovery phase is scheduled to end on Sept. 30.
Fusion Academy runs schools for students in grades 6-12 who struggle in normal school settings. Students work one-on-one with a teacher and classes are individually paced. The company operates 60 schools in 17 states, including schools in Burlington, Hingham and Newton. The company also offered supplemental programs in Andover when schools switched to a remote learning model during the coronavirus pandemic.
The school committee cited guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education asserting its authority to deny the applications, arguing that Fusion’s one-on-one instructional approach would result in students spending fewer hours working with teachers.