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Parent Loses Job After Pushing for In-Person Learning, Lawsuit Claims

A parent who has a child attending Rochester Community Schools is suing the district after she was fired for speaking out about the school’s return to learn plan.

Rochester Community Schools recently came under fire in a lawsuit over claims that the school board president called a parent’s employer “and got her fired for advocating on social media for schools to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.” The lawsuit was filed by Elena Dinverno in U.S. District Court in Detroit against the Oakland County district, board president Kristin Bull and superintendent Robert Shaner, and argued they “unlawfully restricted her free speech.”

According to the lawsuit, Dinverno has two children in the school district. At the start of the school year, the students were doing remote school. Over the year, Dinverno has been vocal about her opposition to some of the board’s decisions. In fact, Dinverno describes herself as a “vocal and effective advocate for her position who frequently questioned and criticized the decisions of the board through posts and comments in two Facebook groups: ‘RCS Parents for In-Person Education’ and ‘Conservative Parents for Rochester.’”

Closed sign; image courtesy of geralt via Pixabay, www.pixabay.com

According to the lawsuit, Dinverno appealed to one of the Facebook groups last fall, asking for video testimonials “from parents and students expressing the hardships they’ve endured without the availability of in-person school.” In response, a member of the board allegedly contacted “her employer, Blake’s Hard Cider Co. in Armada, where she had worked as marketing director since 2019, and falsely claimed that Dinverno was participating in a group launching threats against the school district.” Later, she discovered the board member was Bull, who happens to work as a “director of content at Crain’s Detroit Business” and claims Bull threatened to “revoke a ’40 under 40’ recognition for company president Andrew Blake in response to Dinverno’s alleged conduct on social media related to school reopening.”

Eventually, she was called to a meeting with her company’s human resources manager, where she was asked to explain her involvement with the Facebook groups. An HR manager even told her to “watch what she was saying in the online forums.” On November 6, she “wrote a letter to her employer’s leadership clarifying the extent of her participation in the Facebook groups.” In the letter, she said she “never made any threats and that her participation did not go beyond passionate, and appropriate advocacy.”

The following month, she submitted a comment to the school board via the district’s online feedback portal that stated, “every parent has the right to express their sadness, frustration, anger, as a right to freedom of speech…by reporting parents you are risking their livelihood. Their employment. That is all they have right now.”

Shortly after, she was terminated from her position. Dinverno alleges in her suit that “board members had contacted the employers of other parents over their online comments.”

To make matters worse, Dinverno received a cease-and-desist from the district that said the comments she submitted to the board and in her Facebook groups were “false and are injurious to the Board, and threaten further injury if left uncorrected.”

Deborah Gordon is representing Dinverno. She said “the fact that a parent received such a letter was shocking” and added:

“This is a government entity for which you are entitled to your First Amendment rights…unless someone is using threatening language. But over offering up an opinion? There have zero business policing her speech.”

She added that Dinverno “engaged in constitutionally protected free speech” and noted the defendants “unlawfully interfered with those rights by contacting and threatening her employer with adverse professional ramifications.”

As a result, the suit is seeking damages and an injunction against the district “prohibiting further wrongdoing or retaliation against Dinverno.”

Sources:

Rochester school parent sues, alleges district got her fired for speaking out

Parent says she was fired for speaking against Rochester schools, files lawsuit

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