Former Camp Crystal principal sues Prescott Cowles, Carlee Simon and school board for defamation and willful interference with contract



ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. – Former Camp Crystal principal Scott Burton and his wife, Holly Burton, principal of Alachua Elementary School (formerly principal of Shell Elementary in Hawthorne), have filed a lawsuit against the Alachua County School Board (ACSB), a former public school in Alachua County. Superintendent Carlee Simon and current school board nominee Prescott Cowles for defamation, willful interference with contract, willful interference with business dealings, and willful infliction of emotional distress. The five current school board members – Leanetta McNealy, Tina Certain, Robert Hyatt, Mildred Russell and Gunnar Paulson – are named in the lawsuit. Cowles is listed as “Wizard of [Simon]support staff and confidant.

The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $15,000, not including costs and attorneys’ fees.

Burtons says it all started at Hawthorne community meeting

In the lawsuit, Ms Burton claims her family was targeted by Simon and the school board following a community meeting in Hawthorne in October 2021, at which it was reported that Simon said the school district was planning to build a new K-12 in Hawthorne and Ms. Burton, taken by surprise, expressed her concerns about a K-12 school and the loss of Shell Elementary and what the school means to the community.

About eight days after the meeting, Mr. Burton was called into Simon’s office and asked about his living conditions at Camp Crystal. Burton maintains that his contract requires him to live on site and that former camp directors have lived at the camp for free, including utilities and satellite services. However, Simon reportedly told Mr Burton that he would be required to sign a lease with the ACSB to continue living at the camp. She would also have questioned him about the conditions in which his children attended the camp.

Simon’s letter, allegedly backed by information from Cowles, launches investigation

In early November, Simon emailed the ACSB accusing Mr Burton of fraud, misuse of taxpayer funds, financial mismanagement and breaches of ethics. The letter gave the impression that the Burtons were inappropriately receiving housing and utilities. The lawsuit alleges that much of the information used to write the letter was provided by Cowles. The lawsuit says the letter was “an attempt to fabricate and produce false and prejudicial allegations that amounted to a witch hunt.”

The lawsuit also says Cowles “was only too happy to help, as it was common knowledge that he had set his sights on Mr. Burton’s work.” The lawsuit notes that Cowles was “an interesting choice of ‘witness'” because he only worked at the camp from August 2019 to 2020, and there was no camp in 2020. The lawsuit alleges that Cowles was “expelled for accessing Mr. Burton’s private and confidential communications without authorization for the purpose of having Mr. Burton fired. Based on information and belief, Cowles is responsible for providing the media with a large portion false allegations about Mr. Burton.

Simon gives Ms Burton a bad review

Four days later, Ms Burton says she received the worst evaluation she had ever received, that Simon had never even visited Shell Elementary during the school year and that Simon offered no comment to justify the low rating. Ms Burton said Simon told her she ‘doesn’t think a person should be considered highly efficient because that would indicate they’ve hit their ceiling’.

Mr Burton placed on administrative leave

In January, after Mr. Burton was ordered to sign a lease with the ACSB, Simon informed the district’s human resources department that Mr. Burton was involved in an incident involving “serious concerns about the mismanagement financial and fraud” at the camp, and an investigation was opened. opened when there was no complaint other than Simon’s letter. Mr Burton was then placed on administrative leave and blocked on his email account.

The lawsuit says that before and after Mr. Simon was placed on leave, Simon and Certain “knowingly and maliciously published false, misleading, damaging and libelous statements ‘to individuals, the school board and the media,'” which damaged Mr. Burton’s reputation.

The financial audit that supported Burton would have been withheld

The lawsuit says a financial audit was carried out, and Mr. Burton obtained it on February 28, 2022, after requesting it on February 4. The audit did not support Simon’s claims that Burton had acted improperly, but rather concluded that the district had changed its report. requirements in a manner inconsistent with the camp registration software and noted that there was no scholarship policy in place.

This audit would not have been made available to either Mr Burton or the investigator as part of his human resources investigation, although it was completed at the end of January, before the completion of the investigation report February 7 and the February 16 meeting of the Inquiry Review Committee.

The investigation review committee found no probable cause of violation of law or school board policies against Mr. Burton.

Lawsuit alleges Cowles shredded school district documents

The lawsuit alleges that on February 27, Cowles and an unidentified woman were observed shredding documents in the school board’s administration building and then using a vacuum cleaner to remove the shreds. The complaint states: ‘To this day, many of Mr. Burton’s public records requests remain unfulfilled.’

The lawsuit gives multiple examples of defamatory remarks made by Simon in its November letter to the school board regarding Mr. Burton and claims that the remarks were made maliciously and damaged his “good name and reputation in the community “.

The lawsuit claims that Simon and Cowles took action that was intended to ’cause a breach or disturbance’ of Mr Burton’s contract with the ACSB and that Simon took action to have both Burtons removed from their positions at the within the ACSB. He also claims that Simon, Certain and McNealy together ‘engineered’ Ms Burton’s low rating to punish her for public dissent.

Burtons seeks damages, apologies and costs

The lawsuit asks the Court to award compensatory damages to the Burtons, to require the ACSB to recant and publicly apologize, and to award Burtons attorneys’ fees and costs.

The Burtons are represented by attorney Bryan Boukari, who sent a pre-notification letter to the school board in February. At the time, Simon told us that his initial email “speaks for itself”. She continued, “Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, we know we need to fix our internal systems associated with Camp Crystal…One of my top priorities has been to review and improve all internal systems and policies across entire district to protect taxpayer funds. . We are already putting in place increased oversight and accountability mechanisms to address the concerns I shared in my first email to the board.


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