Lee High teacher reassigned to paid, non-teaching post amid controversy over BLM flag, her organization says

Students planned demonstration but it was shut down by school staff

Students planned demonstration but it was shut down by school staff

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Robert E. Lee High School teacher who was told to remove a “Black Lives Matter” flag from outside her classroom, has been administratively reassigned, according to the Duval County Public Schools district.

A spokesperson for DCPS told News4Jax Thursday morning that a claim by The Evac Movement organization on its social media page -- that its cofounder, Amy Donofrio, was suspended from Robert E. Lee High School is false.

Laureen Ricks of DCPS said Donofrio has been “administratively reassigned to paid, non-teaching duties” effective Thursday.

“The district has opened a human resources matter to review allegations of potential misconduct under school board policy and the Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession in Florida,” Ricks said in response to a Public Records request by News4Jax. “The presumption of innocence applies, However, Ms. Donofrio has been removed from school and classroom duties while the matter is reviewed.”

Donofrio was embroiled in controversy after Lee High School administrators ordered her to remove a Black Lives Matter banner from her classroom doorway by the end of the day Tuesday. Donofrio did not comply with the directive and said administrators removed the banner Tuesday night.

Students at the school told News4Jax they had planned to stage a “peaceful assembly” Wednesday morning in response to a school administrator’s removal of a the flag.

A Lee High School senior said the school’s staff prevented the demonstration from happening.

“Security stood outside, like at every block way,” the senior said. “During the time that we were supposed to walk out, they stood and blocked everything.”

Duval County Public Schools spokesperson Tracy Pierce told News4Jax there’s a big difference between the student-led demonstrations that occurred in February and what was planned Wednesday.

“Students aren’t allowed to organize an assembly without the involvement of the school’s administration,” Pierce said. “You can’t have an unplanned, impromptu demonstration.”

The 12th-grader told News4Jax that many students created and posted make-shift “BLM” signs on the walls of Lee High school, but says they were removed by school staff.

The teacher who displayed the Black Lives Matter flag outside her classroom, Amy Donofrio, told News4Jax in an interview Tuesday that she was given an ultimatum that morning by Lee High School principal Timothy Feagins that she must remove the flag by the end of the day or that school staff would remove it.

This image is a screenshot from a Nov. 7, 2020 Facebook post by Amy Donofrio. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Donofrio declined to remove the sign and told News4Jax administrators removed it shortly before 9 p.m. In its place, she posted a paper banner with the words “Lee admin took down the Black Lives Matter sign last night.”

The situation follows a News4Jax story that aired Monday night, which featured Donofrio commenting on a compilation of clips from various Lee High School stakeholder meetings discussing the school’s possible renaming.

The clips had gone viral and featured public comments from 1984 Lee High alumnus Joey Stevens.

In the article, Donofrio criticized his comments and said that it demonstrates a need for the Duval County School District to take a firm stance on racism.

“It shouldn’t be ambiguous,” Donofrio said. “Everybody should know where DCPS stands on racism.”

Hours later, Stevens took to social media, sharing screenshots from Donofrio’s Facebook page, including the Nov. 7 post showing the BLM flag, and called on his followers to contact school administrators. The following morning, Donofrio said, is when she received the ultimatum.

This screenshot shows a Nov. 7, 2020 Facebook post by Amy Donofrio, a teacher at Robert E. Lee High School. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

“The issue is that she is promoting the Black Lives Matter BLM, in her classroom,” Stevens told News4Jax on Tuesday. “I just think that that goes against anything that should happen in school. Teachers should not be promoting organizations, whether it’s political or social injustice type organizations, and trying to influence their students.”

Donofrio said the flag shouldn’t be seen as controversial but as a statement of anti-racism and racial equity.

“Every single thing that we do, should be focused on what’s best for the kids,” Donofrio said. “Every single that’s my philosophy as an educator is that we are about supporting the kids and being a very crucial part of supporting an equitable community.”

Donofrio said the request to remove the BLM banner also followed a formal report she made to school personnel about an alleged instance of racial discrimination on campus involving the custodial staff.

“Essentially, immediately after reporting this discrimination, about the custodial staff, and other concerns too, I reported that I was very concerned about the racial trauma that these meetings may be having on our kids,” Donofrio told News4Jax Tuesday. “As soon as that happens, essentially, the week starts with Black Lives Matter sign that’s been up since October needs to come down.”

Duval County School Board policy states, “No employee shall use his/her position in any way to influence or attempt to influence students to support or oppose any candidate, party or issue. Such prohibition shall include, but not be limited to, any form of advocacy or opposition in a classroom or school setting or other school-related student-teacher relationship.”

Donofrio said the BLM flag that was removed from in front of her classroom is the same one that is seen at the head of a student-led demonstration in February, in which Principal Feagins participated.

The screenshot was taken from a Feb. 12, 2021 Instagram post from Lee High School senior class president Deyona Burton as she walks along side principal Timothy Feagins. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)
This screenshot was captured from a video by Lee High School teacher Amy Donofrio during the February 12, 2020 student-led demonstration on the school's campus. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

News4Jax requested a statement from Feagins, but the inquiry was directed to the district’s communications team.

Pierce said he could not speak to Feagins’ personal stance on any issue but cited board policy on employee expression, including a memo from Dec. 15 which bans employees from backing social movements or causes, including the display of flags, banners or signage on district property.

Donofrio notes that that memo was distributed after she was approached in November about the sign.

Pierce said the district couldn’t comment on any matters related to the situation with Donofrio as it is “an ongoing human resources matter.”

About the Author:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.