Senator says he was asked to delete Epic emails

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Rebecca Wilkinson, executive director of the virtual charter school board, and Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee. PROVIDED

A state senator says he was asked to delete emails by the official who oversees the Oklahoma Virtual Charter School Board weeks after she downplayed her communication with him to an attorney representing Epic virtual charter school. 

On Aug. 26, 2019, Sen. Ron Sharp’s office published a press release stating “recent correspondence with the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board verifies his concerns of further illegal enrollment practices by Epic Charter School in order to receive additional state funding.”  

On Sept. 3, Bill Hickman, Epic’s attorney, emailed Rebecca Wilkinson, executive director of the virtual charter school board, asking her to “review your files and provide any communications with Sen. Sharp from January 1, 2019 to present.” 

On Sept. 11, 2019, Sharp said Wilkinson asked his executive assistant to delete any emails she had sent the senator concerning Epic.

The Epic charter school office in Oklahoma City. BEN FELDER/The Frontier

“I contacted senate legal staff and they said you should not do that,” Sharp said. “Why she wanted me to do it I don’t know.”

The information provided by Wilkinson and the virtual charter school board to Sharp is a central part of a libel lawsuit Epic filed against Sharp last year. 

In an emailed statement to The Frontier, Wilkinson said she asked for one email to be deleted because it contained private student information. 

Wilkinson said: “The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board has not requested all emails between the SVCSB and Senator Ron Sharp be deleted. However, in an attempt to honor an open records request made by Senator Sharp in 2019, a SVCSB staff member sent a response with attached reports which we later believed may have contained a report that included student information. Because we always consider the safety and privacy of students first, an immediate request to delete that one email was made. After a search was conducted for that one email, nothing was discovered and no emails were deleted. The SVCSB appreciates the assistance of the State in the protection of the privacy of our children.”

Sharp said he searched through the documents sent by the SVCSB and “none appeared to contain student info that is not statistical.”

In February, Oklahoma County Judge Cindy Truong granted Sharp’s motion to dismiss Epic’s lawsuit. 

Last week, Epic filed a motion asking Troung to reconsider her dismissal. 

Sharp has been one of Epic’s most vocal critics in the state Legislature and has accused the school of enrolling virtual students in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties in Epic’s blended learning center, which is a separate school. 

In his motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Sharp’s lawyer argued the senator is protected by statutory privilege as a state legislator. 

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations has alleged Epic’s co-founders have unlawfully profited off the school by manipulating enrollment records. Epic has denied any wrongdoing and no charges have been filed against the school. 

While Epic is suing Sharp, the school is the target of another lawsuit by the office of the State Auditor and Inspector, which is seeking financial records of the private company that manages the school. 

Last week, the state chamber requested to join the case in defense of Epic, claiming that if the private company managing Epic was forced to make its financial records public it would mean other private companies that do work for government entities would face the same requirement. 

A hearing is scheduled for Friday morning at the Oklahoma County courthouse. 

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Ben Felder

Based in Oklahoma City, Ben Felder joined The Frontier in 2019 and covers education and politics. He previously covered education and government as an investigative reporter at The Oklahoman before becoming the newspaper’s news director. Felder can be reached at ben@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @benfelder_okc
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