KIPP co-founder, fired after misconduct investigation, alleges school intentionally destroyed his reputation

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Mike Feinberg, the former Houston teacher who co-founded KIPP charter schools, is suing the school group he created. After helping to build KIPP from a four-teacher Houston charter school into a national education powerhouse, KIPP fired Feinberg in February 2018 after an investigation into misconduct.

Feinberg calls the firing "a cruel betrayal."

KIPP said it was justified after an investigation found his accuser "credible." A school investigation found Feinberg's denial credible as well.

The KIPP board voted to fire Feinberg.

According to Feinberg's termination letter, first reported by chalkbeat.org, "a KIPP Houston Public Schools student made allegations that approximately 20 years ago you (engaged in conduct) that could constitute inappropriate sexual misconduct. You (Feinberg) denied the allegations."

At a Thursday morning news conference, Feinberg, sitting between his lawyer and his wife, denied any misconduct.

"I did nothing but great work for the children and families of Houston and Texas and across the country," he said.

Feinberg said he reached the difficult decision to sue, hoping to get his reputation back.

"I want people to say that when they looked at the allegation and looked at the facts, they realized that I did not do these despicable and horrible things I was accused of, and I'm an educator in good standing," said Feinberg.

But that's not what people were saying when KIPP announced Feinberg's firing in February 2018. As news of Feinberg's firing came out, a KIPP parent told ABC13 at the time, "Unfortunately this happened. There's a lot of bad people out there."

It's that kind of reputation damage Feinberg alleges has kept him from working in education since his firing.

RELATED: Fired KIPP co-founder denies allegations of misconduct

In his lawsuit, which KIPP calls "baseless and frivolous," Feinberg alleges the first KIPP investigation found "no evidence of wrongdoing." According to the suit, KIPP, "wanting a different result, ordered a second investigation." That second investigation by the WilmerHale law firm similarly couldn't prove the misconduct allegations but found "the alleged victim was credible." Feinberg was then fired.

In a 2018 blog post, KIPP told its community the allegations couldn't be proven, but the alleged victim had credibility. The post went further, saying, "What is clear, however, is that at a minimum, Mr. Feinberg put himself into situations where his conduct could be seriously misconstrued."

"That's the one part of what they said that I completely agree with, because KIPP was set up to push the envelope and take risks and do things that schools at the time did not want to do," Feinberg told reporters Thursday.

While he denies any allegations of misconduct or inappropriate behavior, Feinberg told reporters he was different than other educators, especially in the early days as he was building KIPP.

"We did not believe in being educators in the school house and staying there," he said. "We believed in going out in the community. We believed in going into the homes and the apartments and becoming a part of the family and part of the community. And I don't regret that one bit."

Feinberg's lawsuit alleges KIPP went further, saying the school "intentionally ... ruined Mike's good reputation."

"Once they made the decision to terminate Mike from his employment," Mano DeAyala,Feinberg's attorney, told reporters, "they had to make sure that he was unemployable afterwards."

DeAyala said the discovery process would show how and why the school intentionally or maliciously tried to ruin Feinberg's reputation. That was not immediately clear from the lawsuit.

A KIPP spokesperson did not want to get into that or details of the specific misconduct allegations but released a statement from the school and foundation CEOs. "This is a baseless and frivolous lawsuit. Mr. Feinberg's employment was terminated last year after thorough investigations uncovered credible instances of misconduct incompatible with KIPP's values. We regret Mr. Feinberg is choosing to put the women who came forward to share painful experiences, the witnesses who supported them, and the entire KIPP community through further distress."
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