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Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

Duval teacher wins Black Lives Matter flag fight

By meerna Jun18,2024
Duval teacher wins Black Lives Matter flag fight

A former Duval County teacher won her fight to keep her teaching license Thursday after the state fined her for flying a Black Lives Matter flag in a case that drew national attention.

Amy Donofrio, a former high school teacher, successfully argued that the state had no right to prosecute her for the flag, even though Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has characterized her as a public example of its war against what it sees as liberal influences in the school’s society .

The independent panel voted unanimously to accept a written reprimand – not the suspension and fine that the state – requested of Donofrio.

As the district considered changing the name of the high school, Robert E. Lee, kept masks in her classroom that read: “Robert E. Lee was a gang member.” The panel reprimanded her for the masks, but rejected the state’s attempt to punish her for flying the Black Lives Matter flag.

Donofrio celebrated her success in defeating the state, but she and her lawyer said they could still appeal the written reprimand.

Donofrio’s case marks a failure of the DeSantis administration’s efforts to punish teachers it says violated state standards by allegedly pushing liberal ideology into classrooms. Instead, an administrative judge found that Donofrio did not endanger her students with the flag or masks.

The Florida Department of Education did not respond to repeated calls and emails asking whether the state would change any policies related to the case.

“I always wanted to be a teacher”

Donofrio woke up Thursday to notifications that someone had left threats on her Facebook page again. What she said has become standard for her in the three years since the state called on her to fly the Black Lives Matter flag.

As she drove to Tampa that morning, where the Commission on Educational Practices had decided to accept an administrative judge’s finding that her license should not be suspended, she remembered what had brought her to Jacksonville in the first place.

“I always wanted to be a teacher, nothing more,” she told a reporter while driving. “And for 13 years I did what I loved and felt I was born to do.”

For almost a decade she taught at the then secondary school. Robert E. Lee. As a teacher, she became an advocate for her students, advising a class she called the EVAC Movement. In this role, she won praise from both Republicans and Democrats at the local and national level for her work against gang violence and for racial justice.

That changed after the 2020 protests following the killing of George Floyd, when the district demanded she remove the Black Lives Matter flag and anti-Confederate face masks.

In 2021, the district took away her teaching duties and assigned her to work in the warehouse.

DeSantis’ then-education commissioner, Richard Corcoran, bragged publicly about Donofrio’s removal from the classroom, saying he helped clean up the district’s discipline as part of a state crackdown on police teachers.

“I have censored, dismissed or fired many teachers,” Corcoran said, before telling the story of Donofrio’s removal from her classroom.

Donofrio sued the district and settled later that year when the district did not renew her teaching contract.

But then the Florida Department of Education went after her teaching license, sparking a high-profile showdown between DeSantis’ new conservative standards for teachers, the same standards he emphasized during his unsuccessful presidential campaign.

“Politicians are trying to boost their polls with these completely baseless and baseless attacks on teachers,” said Mark Richard, Donofrio’s lawyer.

The teacher may appeal against the reprimand

The Department of Education alleged that by allowing the display of the Black Lives Matter flag and face masks criticizing the legacy of Robert E. Lee, Donofrio did not make sufficient efforts to “protect the student from conditions that are harmful to his or her learning and/or mental and mental health.” /or physical health and/or safety.” The department also found that she did not take appropriate precautions to distinguish her personal views from those of the district.

For three years, Donofrio fought the state. Although she no longer taught in the school district, she believed the state was wrong to revoke her license and ability to teach again in the future.

“Of course I would love to teach again,” she said. Teachers across the state, she said, “are afraid of the Florida Department of Education. They are afraid that Governor DeSantis will get on his bad side.

Last year in the Duval County Courthouse, Donofrio and the state heard testimony from witnesses and spent two days presenting their arguments before an administrative judge.

Although the judge agreed with Donofrio that the Black Lives Matter flag did not warrant any discipline, the judge wrote that a written reprimand was appropriate in the case of face masks because Donofrio did not do enough to distinguish her views from the district’s views on Robert E. .

The state asked the state for permission to place her teaching license on probation and impose a fine on her.

“I felt like the burden I’ve been carrying for three years was at least partially lifted from me,” Donofrio said after the panel in Tampa accepted the judge’s recommendations. “I felt a little bit of freedom for the first time in a long time.”

Donofrio, however, said she may appeal the judge’s decision to seek a reprimand because she doesn’t want the state to set a precedent for allowing any discipline against other teachers who also found themselves in DeSantis’ crosshairs.

Essentially, the reprimand tells Donofrio that if she has an opinion that differs from the district’s position, she must make it clear to students if she is to continue acting, said Mark Richard, her attorney. “We believe this was a legal error and will consider appealing this part only,” he added.

Still, he said, “from a legal perspective, this ruling once again confirms that a teacher can teach with integrity and that he should not be a victim of political and cultural wars.”

“I am shocked by the way I saw the world.”

Donofrio said that since Education Commissioner DeSantis publicized her case, she has been the target of harassment and threats. She added that after one threat she changed the locks in her house.

“The last three years have definitely been the hardest of my life, years where I questioned many things in my entire life,” she said. She stated that her ability to teach was taken away as a result of harassment, which shook her identity. “I am shocked by the way I saw the world.”

In addition to going after individual teachers like Donofrio, DeSantis has prioritized a series of regulations limiting what teachers can talk about in the classroom.

The STOP WOKE Act of 2022 banned the teaching of critical race theory and teaching that says people are oppressed because of their race. Another law banned teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in eighth grades and younger and prohibited teaching to high school students that was not “age appropriate.”

Nearly 2,700 books were restricted or removed from Florida schools and public libraries last year, according to the American Library Association.

While Donofrio has retained her teaching license, it is unclear whether she will be able to do so in Duval County Public Schools. The district did not respond to requests for comment.

This story was published as part of a partnership between Jacksonville Today and The Tributary.

By meerna

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