A former administrative assistant at the elite Hilltop Country Day School is suing the private Sparta school, claiming the top administrator has fostered an environment filled with lies and deception and banned the enrollment of children of color.
The day school, for children in Kindergarten to Grade 8, was a “deeply dysfunctional entity poised to explode because of the policies, practices and misconduct of its principal,” says Victoria Foley, a 40-year-old Sparta resident who filed a lawsuit against the Sussex County school earlier this month.
The costume centers on Laura McGee, the principal of the school who was fired in 2012 after several years before she was rehired in 2019, according to Foley. Federal records show McGee was principal of the school in 2019, shared the co-principal position in 2018, and was not in office in 2017, 2016 or 2015, the oldest files online.
As the only independent non-public school in Sussex County, Hilltop, located on nearly five acres on Lafayette Road, is tuition-based. Parents paid for the 2021-2022 school year more than nearly $ 20,000 to enroll their children in grades 5 through 8. For pre-K, five full days will cost a family about $ 12,500.
The school is non-profit and is also funded by donations, gifts and fundraising.
The school received total income of $ 2.6 million for its 2018 tax year and $ 2.5 million in 2019, but fell to $ 1.5 million in 2020, according to records.
But despite collecting “millions in tuition,” Foley said teachers have become restless about having to buy their own supplies, including pens and markers. Teachers and staff had “no meaningful communication” with each other or with the administration, Foley said.
Even more “devastating,” Foley said, was the culture McGee promoted that made teachers fear retaliation if they made recommendations or expressed ideas about educational programs or improvements.
“[Foley] learned firsthand that although she was the work force of the administrative office, she was also the school principal’s scapegoat for every lie and false statement made by the school principal to teachers, parents and the advice. “
As a result, 15 of the 19 teachers resigned in the 2019-20 school year and one guard resigned after his first day, according to Foley.
Foley, who was in charge of managing the school’s finances, among other duties, said she questioned fundraising events where no one had ever won raffles or gift baskets – McGee instead took the gifts home to her kids, says Foley – and voiced concerns that the bills were continually delinquent.
“[Foley] He was told and ordered to lie or make up stories about why the bills were not paid on time in order to cover up the fact that the school principal was hoarding, hijacking or simply trying to defraud creditors payment, âsays Foley.
Student report cards have been changed to inflate grades and hide student delays, Foley said.
But Foley said it was even worse.
In the summer of 2020, Foley claims the school’s enrollment practices violated state law, with McGee picking and choosing which students she wanted to enroll in the private school.
Foley claims she watched McGee house and even sue wealthy white families for enrollment, but discouraged and fired families of color, describing a case where a Muslim family had scheduled a tour with McGee last year.
The mother was excited about her children’s potential enrollment in school and visited her twice, but behind closed doors, Foley claims McGee told her she “didn’t want them because the ‘school didn’t need it, “a statement Foley gathered as McGee didn’t want Muslim children in school.
Another family, of Puerto Rican descent, was dissuaded from touring with McGee after she told them it was expensive school and “probably not for you,” Foley claims. McGee later revealed to Foley that she was put off by the father’s tattoos and the diagnosis of Childhood Attention Deficit Disorder, which several students have in school.
But what McGee didn’t realize, Foley said, was that the family had been referred by a parent with children enrolled in school. And that parent, Foley said, became enraged and made several unsuccessful attempts to contact the school board to voice concerns about McGee’s alleged statements to the family.
A director reached out to Foley to gather more details about what happened, and in turn, the director disclosed that information to the board of directors, including the chairman of the board, Foley claims. The chairman of the board, who was close to the school principal, according to Foley, shared the details with McGee, which ultimately led to his dismissal on Jan.20, 2021.
Foley said she was humiliated after being falsely accused of “outrageous conduct” and told police would be called if she returned to campus again, she said.
In an email to the Herald, McGee denied all of the allegations and said she “looks forward to vigorously defending the school’s excellent reputation in a courtroom, not in the press.”
âSadly, a disgruntled former office worker filed a false and malicious complaint against our non-profit school,â she wrote.
The Hilltop School welcomes students from 23 cities, seven counties and two states, according to the website. The school employs around 50 people and welcomes between 100 and 200 students each year.
âHilltop has a more than 50-year tradition of providing the highest level of private K-8 education in Sussex County,â McGee added. “Hilltop has always strived to provide a diverse student body. Hilltop has diversity within our student body and on our board of directors. This year Hilltop also has 100% faculty retention.”
Lori Comstock can also be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.