STARKE, Fla. – The superintendent of the Bradford County School District is facing a defamation lawsuit brought by an organizer for the local chapter of Special Olympics Florida.
The suit was filed on Oct. 7 by attorneys for Jennifer Nicole Cooper against superintendent Stacey Creighton and claims the school district’s leader deprived Cooper of her constitutional rights and committed libel in a March 10 post from Creighton on the district’s Facebook page.
According to the post, the conflict began on March 8, when Cooper sent an email to the district on behalf of the Special Olympics chapter requesting the use of Bradford County High School’s track facilities for practice.
“The email did not give dates, times, or list a phone number for a return call,” the Facebook post said. Creighton said the district’s athletics director attempted to reach out to Cooper for clarification, but that she never responded.
The civil lawsuit claims Cooper attended the school board meeting on March 9, where both she and an athlete requested use of the field during the time allotted for public comments. Cooper said she did not receive an answer by the time the meeting adjourned.
According to both accounts, Cooper confronted Creighton after the meeting had adjourned and hurled profanities at the district leader.
Cooper says the superintendent brushed off her inquiry, saying that the issue was delegated to other staff members and that Creighton said she ‘couldn’t stand to even talk to’ Cooper.
“[Cooper] was taken aback by the aggressive tone of the superintendent’s voice over such a simple request and without thinking, responded back to her with an expletive name," the lawsuit states.
Creighton’s account describes the story a bit differently.
“Ms. Cooper approached the Superintendent and proceeded to rant about the district’s failure to respond to her request; repeatedly using profanity," the Facebook post said. “Finally, Ms. Cooper ended her attack by calling the Superintendent a hateful, vulgar name."
After the exchange, Cooper was served with a trespass warning by the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office at the request of Creighton, banning Cooper from all school district properties.
“Ms. Cooper’s behavior was unprofessional, unwarranted and highly inappropriate given the presence of parents, teachers and even students in close enough proximity to have overheard her profane diatribe,” the district’s Facebook post said. “Moreover, her conduct represents a violation of School Board policy. As a result, Ms. Cooper is no longer allowed on School Board property.”
The trespass warning was later amended to allow Cooper to attend her son’s graduation events but remains in effect as of Friday.
Cooper’s lawsuit claims the Facebook post damaged her reputation and demands at least $30,000 in damages from Creighton.
Brittany Cooper, who is Nikki’s attorney and daughter-in-law, released the following statement to News4Jax:
“The superintendent has demonstrated a pattern of abusing authority for personal reasons, not just against Mrs. Cooper, but in numerous instances over the past 4 years. In Mrs. Cooper’s case she infringed on her rights and prevented her from participating in many of the graduation activities of her son, a senior at Bradford High School. After doing that she created a false and libelous post on the school district’s official Facebook page. Our complaint lays out the detailed facts of this case and we look forward to our day in court.”Brittany Cooper, Attorney for Nikki Cooper
Creighton is running for reelection on Nov. 3 against challenger Will Hartley.