Robert E. Lee Excessive Faculty in Jacksonville, Fla., was segregated — whites solely — till the 1971-1972 faculty 12 months. Its faculty colours are blue and grey, the colours of the Confederacy, and its sports activities groups are referred to as the Generals.
However loads has modified for the reason that Nineteen Seventies: Now, the coed physique is 70% Black. College students run an Instagram web page to doc racism they expertise at college. And a pupil group referred to as the EVAC Motion, targeted on reframing Black youth in Jacksonville from "in danger" to "at hope," met with then-President Barack Obama in 2016 and introduced earlier than the U.S. Workplace of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
In January 2020, a former member of the EVAC Motion, Reginald Boston, was killed by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Workplace.
That fall, Amy Donofrio, an English instructor at Lee and co-founder of the EVAC Motion, hung a Black Lives Matter flag exterior her classroom to mark it as a secure area for college kids to course of Boston's dying.
"His life mattered. Interval," Donofrio mentioned. "Strolling beside his household, his mother, and seeing what it seems to be like in actual life, there is not any potential approach you can't stand by the idea that Black lives matter."
This March, Jacksonville's public faculty district instructed Donofrio to take the flag down, saying it violated district coverage on political speech by workers.
Donofrio mentioned no. So she was taken out of the classroom and reassigned to non-teaching duties.
Donofrio is now represented by the Southern Poverty Regulation Heart in a lawsuit filed within the U.S. District Court docket for the Center District of Florida. The swimsuit alleges the flag's removing was a violation of her First Modification rights.
Donofrio alleges that the varsity district persistently undermined the EVAC program by demoting it from a category to a membership to a casual group, turning down personal funding and blocking her from utilizing non-teaching days to take college students on area journeys. It felt like the varsity did not assist its Black college students. The battle over the flag was simply the ultimate straw.
"It is a query of whether or not or not this can be a matter of nice public significance, whether or not or not this speech is protected," mentioned Cathleen Scott, a civil rights lawyer who's representing Donofrio alongside the Southern Poverty Regulation Heart. "Ms. Donofrio was talking out towards racism. And that is an important worth."
That argument would possibly face an uphill battle in courtroom, mentioned Rachel Arnow-Richman, a professor of labor and employment regulation on the College of Florida.
"We consider the First Modification as a foundational precept of our democracy, and it's, but it surely's topic to many limitations," Arnow-Richman mentioned.
Till lately, the free speech rights of public workers had been balanced towards the pursuits of the federal government as an employer. Courts may contemplate, on a case-by-case foundation, whether or not a public worker's speech was disruptive to the federal government's pursuits in that office.
However in 2006, the Supreme Court docket took the place that once they're on the job, public workers communicate for the federal government, not themselves.
Due to that case, Arnow-Richman mentioned, "public employment is likely one of the most profound limitations on First Modification rights."
In her lawsuit, Donofrio is pushing again towards that, citing a Florida statute that claims faculty districts might not infringe upon faculty employees's rights underneath the Structure within the absence of written consent.
Arnow-Richman mentioned the regulation might not have absolutely wrestled with society's conflicting objectives.
"That is to say, this normal rule that public workers don't communicate for themselves however communicate for the federal government and lack First Modification protections is at odds, I'd say, with our societal curiosity in wanting lecturers to have leeway to speak and educate college students about present points, bringing to bear their experience as educators," the professor mentioned.
The varsity district declined to remark for this story.
For Amiyah Jacobs, a senior at Robert E. Lee Excessive, the Black Lives Matter flag was comforting and she or he felt the varsity taking it down was disrespectful. She mentioned she missed seeing Donofrio at college.
"Since we're a Title I faculty, not all people has entry to the proper sources. So she helps out with children who want hygiene or meals and even assist making use of to school," Jacobs mentioned. "She was simply very candy. And she or he cared for the scholars. It wasn't all the time nearly 'Do your work.' "
Jacobs is certainly one of greater than 16,000 individuals who have signed a student-led petition to carry the instructor again to the classroom.
Donofrio mentioned it is worrying to sue her employer, but it surely additionally seems like a aid.
"There are educators throughout this nation that wish to stand with our youngsters, which are advocating for our youngsters, and are being retaliated towards and pushed again towards in consequence. And so my aim, my hope, is that by doing this, we will empower extra educators to face beside our youngsters."