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Utopian Academy For The Arts| Georgia Approved Charter Middle School » Utopian Warns Riverdale To ‘Cease And Desist’ Bullying After City Tries To Shut Down School Cafeteria
RIVERDALE – A lawyer representing Utopian Academy for the Arts has put the City of Riverdale on notice that if illegal “bullying” of the public charter school continues, Utopian will sue the city for intentionally interfering with school operations. The demand to cease and desist was sent by the law firm of McGuire Woods after Utopian Academy received yet another visit from a Riverdale code enforcement officer warning the school to obtain a business license. The notice was issued on Sept. 15 when Officer T. Windley wandered onto campus asking a janitor to summon the school’s food and nutrition manager. The officer did not alert the front office that he was on campus or provide identification, school officials said. The notice accused Utopian of failing to comply with Riverdale Code Section II – Article 68-33-1 by operating a cafeteria without a business license. Utopian was given one day to “obtain a current Occupational Tax Permit to continue operating [its] business” or face a shut down of the schoolcafeteria. The city also demanded that Utopian’s cafeteria vendor obtain a food service permit from Clayton County even though Utopian already has one.

 Utopian Warns Riverdale To ‘Cease And Desist’ Bullying After City Tries To Shut Down School Cafeteria

“It is self-evident that Utopian is being maliciously and selectively prosecuted in a manner that is discriminatory and distinct from the city’s treatment of Clayton County School District,” attorney Robert Fortson wrote in a letter to the city. “

“It is self-evident that Utopian is being maliciously and selectively prosecuted in a manner that is discriminatory and distinct from the city’s treatment of Clayton County School District,” attorney Robert Fortson wrote in a letter to the city. “We have confirmed with the Georgia Department of Education that it is not aware of an occupational tax or food service permit being required of any food service provider anywhere in the state … Any further attempts by city officials to enter onto Utopian’s premises without properly identifying themselves will result in immediate notification of state and local police and prosecution for trespass.”Artesius Miller, executive director for Utopian Academy, said he and the school’s governing board are losing patience with the city and will no longer be bullied. The board is willing to sue the city if necessary to keep the cafeteria open for students and to stop the harassment over unnecessary business permits. Utopian Academy uses the state-approved vendor Southern Hospitality Management Group to operate the school cafeteria, which feeds about 240 students daily. Students are served meals that are prepared onsite.”If people came over to the school and treated this like it was a drive-thru for a fast food restaurant, I could easily see why we would need a business license,” said Artesius Miller, executive director of.Utopian Academy. “We are serving food to public school kids. This is harassment. The city is trying to bully us in a different fashion.”Utopian was issued a similar notice of violation in July demanding that Miller obtain a business license to operate the school in Riverdale even though Utopian is a public school. In August, the school was told to remove its banner sign – the only identifying marker on the building with the name of the school. Utopian also was prohibited from using the marquee sign on the front lawn because the school does not have lettering that meets city specifications. Several nearby schools and businesses, however, have the same banner signs that Utopian was asked to remove including Church Street Elementary. Attorney Fortson said the city’s arbitrary actions show “selective enforcement of law” and are in violation of state and federal regulations. According to Georgia statute 48-13-7, since Utopian’s cafeteria vendor pays occupational taxes in Tennessee, it is exempt from paying them to Riverdale. It operates at the school solely to serve students there.

Yvonne Garrett, marketing and program director for the Memphis-based Southern Hospitality Management Group, said the firm has never experienced so many roadblocks to feeding kids. “We have been in business for 10 years,” she said. Tiffany Hall, Utopian’s Director of Nutrition, agrees the city’s demands are malicious. She said Utopian does not need a business permit, and it has already been issued a food service permit by the Clayton County Department of Public Health, which covers the use of the cafeteria to provide meals for students. “The city is still giving us a hard time,” she said. “We would have no way of feeding the kids if we did not have a company to provide food.” The ongoing battle with the City of Riverdale is weighing heavily on Utopian Academy schoolleaders as they decide how to expand the school to accommodate more students. Utopian must soon tell the Clayton County Board of Education whether it intends to buy the campus or look elsewhere for a permanent location. A fresh start is becoming more appealing to administrators with each notice of violation sent by the city. “When you have a city that has made every attempt to hinder the operations of our school and our growth that is nothing but an indicator that this is a toxic environment that is not best for our school or any other school that is seeking to thrive,” Miller said. “We have to make the best decision for us. It does include us looking for facilities outside of Riverdale.”

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