“The Notebook” author posted a Facebook statement on Monday saying he failed to be “unequivocal” in his support for LGBTQ students at the Epiphany School of Global Studies, a private K-12 Christian school Sparks co-founded.
“As someone who has spent the better part of my life as a writer who understands the power of words, I regret and apologize that mine have potentially hurt young people and members of the LGBTQ community, including my friends and colleagues in that community,” Sparks wrote.
Saul Hillel Benjamin, the former headmaster of Epiphany, filed a lawsuit against Sparks and the school’s Board of Trustees in 2014 accusing the author of willfully keeping minority students out of the school, banning students’ exposure to non-Christian faiths and discouraging staff from helping bullied LGBTQ students.
Sparks has denied the allegations. But emails obtained by The Daily Beast last week appear to back at least some of Benjamin’s claims.
Benjamin alleged Sparks told him “black students are too poor and can’t do the academic work” asked of the school’s students. In one November 2013 email from Sparks obtained by The Daily Beast, the writer said the school’s lack of diversity “has nothing to do with racism” but rather “money” and “culture.”
The former headmaster also said Sparks supported a group of students who had bullied the school’s LGBTQ students and shot down an attempt by faculty and students to form a school club for LGBTQ students, which he said the author dismissively called “the Gay Club.” Benjamin also alleged two bisexual instructors were threatened with termination when they came forward to support LGBTQ students.
In a separate email obtained by The Daily Beast, Sparks told Benjamin he “chose to rock this boat early and hard ... with what some perceive as an agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted. ... As for the ‘Club,’ there obviously can’t be one now.”
In his apology on Monday, Sparks expressed his support for “the principle that all individuals should be free to love, marry and have children with the person they choose, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
He also attempted to address the dispute surrounding the LGBTQ club, saying he didn’t object to the group but rather to how it was being formed.
“My concern was that if a club were to be founded, it be done in a thoughtful, transparent manner with the knowledge of faculty, students and parents — not in secret, and not in a way that felt exceptional,” Sparks wrote. “I only wish I had used those exact words.”
The author didn’t directly respond to the allegations of racism in his apology on Monday, but said his emails lacked “deliberation” and were sent at a time when he was “besieged by vociferous complaints” about Benjamin.
A federal judge last year determined a jury should decide whether Sparks defamed Benjamin by allegedly suggesting to other board members the former headmaster had Alzheimer’s and also whether Benjamin resigned or was pressured to quit. That same judge dismissed Benjamin’s claims that he was forced out due to his attempts to diversify the student population at Epiphany and that his Jewish background played a role in his lost employment, according to The Associated Press.
The case is expected to go to trial in August.