Judge rules that Imagine principal can remain in place

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SARASOTA - Imagine School North Port will keep its current principal…at least for now.

"The court moves that the plaintiff’s motion for temporary injunction is denied." After more than three hours of arguments, Sarasota County Judge Charles E. Williams ruled that removing Justin Matthews from head of the school would be too disruptive to the learning environment.

Matthews and the school's local governing board recently voted to disband from the parent company, Imagine Schools, but keep the founding principal.

Imagine Schools not for profit says the board doesn't have the right and the whole thing is an attempt to steal a school from them.

Matthews and the board argued in court Tuesday that they have a bigger responsibility to tax payers and to the children then to the larger organization, saying they are not getting much in return for nearly a million dollars being sent to the Virginia-based organization.

"Clearly he had the best interest of the children at heart. We are going to keep doing business like we always have. Hopefully we will continue to do business," said Matthews after the decision.

"It is certainly not an indication of the merits of the case going forward. We obviously respect the judge’s decision," said Shawn Arnold, attorney for Imagine Schools not for profit.

The parent company now says they can now replace the local board. Judge Williams says he would like to see Sarasota County School District get more involved, saying they have some rights to legally intervene.

"It puts me in a very precarious situation." The founding principal of Imagine School North Port, Justin Matthews, is now in the position of fighting back against the company which together started it all. "It is a little disheartening. I would have celebrated my eighth year with Imagine Schools in May. I feel like I have been a company which served the company well."

Matthews is just 37 years old, married with a young child he says is in the school’s program. The University of Florida grad was previously a principal at another Imagine School in the state.

Currently the school in North Port is rated an “A". With Matthews at the helm, it has continuously been growing in popularity, adding a grade each year since it was founded in 2008. This year even a football team was added. Just this week they broke ground on a nearly $2 million gymnasium and additional classrooms.

“I love this school. My wife and I chose to move to this area. We are deeply invested in the community," says Matthews.