Embattled Lee High School teacher sues DCPS claiming retaliation

Amy Donofrio was reassigned after hanging Black Lives Matter flag by her classroom

Amy Donofrio (Photo courtesy EVAC Movement)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County Public Schools is being sued after a veteran teacher was removed from her classroom.

Attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center and a private law firm filed a civil case on Friday against Duval County Public Schools on behalf of Robert E. Lee High School teacher Amy Donofrio, claiming the district retaliated against their client and violated her right to free speech.

Donofrio, who co-founded the nationally recognized EVAC Movement in 2016, was recently reassigned to paid, non-teaching duties while the district investigates what it described as “several matters” related to allegations of misconduct.

Duval County Public Schools is being sued after a veteran teacher was removed from her classroom.

Donofrio claims she was taken out of her classroom to stop her from helping her students achieve and for hanging a Black Lives Matter flag over the door of her classroom to signal to students it was a safe space for Black students.

“The best way we can teach kids anything is to teach them to do the right thing and to stand up when something is wrong,” Donofrio said.

Duval County Public Schools told News4Jax it cannot comment on the case.

“Thanks for reaching out, but we’re unable to comment on pending litigation,” the district’s response said. “The investigation is active and ongoing.”

DOCUMENT: 68-page lawsuit

Donofrio’s reassignment came one day after Lee High School administrators removed a Black Lives Matter flag from her classroom doorway when she refused to remove it on their instructions. According to DCPS, the flag was a breach of district policy, which bans teachers from advocating for social causes.

On the morning before her reassignment, Donofrio posted a replacement banner made out of paper with the words “Lee Admin took down the Black Lives Matter sign last night.”

Image posted to Amy Donofrio's public Facebook page ahead of her administrative reassignment. (Facebook/Amy Donofrio)

This federal lawsuit states there were eight counts of state and federal rights violated by DCPS and Scott Schneider including “retaliation, first amendment, protection of school speech and injunction violations.”

The lawsuit claims as the EVAC Movement grew, there was an escalating tension between Schneider and Donofrio. The program was eliminated by the 2018-2019 school year and an all-male leadership course was added to the school schedule. No explanation was given, according to the lawsuit.

Some of Donofrio’s students started a petition demanding the school “Bring Back Ms. Donofrio.”

“Ms. Donofrio was the light in the darkness for so many students,” said Jayla Caldwell, the senior at Lee High School who created the petition, which currently has over 15,000 signatures.

The lawsuit seeks reinstatement of Donofrio to her teaching position and a court order banning school policies that prevent educators from supporting Black Lives Matter and advocating for anti-racist curricula and policies.

“It’s the end of the school year. This is very hard,” Donofrio said. “This whole thing is a painful experience. I miss my students so bad.”

The 13-year veteran teacher waits for her day in court as she fights for equality and justice.

Donofrio’s legal team is requesting a jury to hear this case and are waiting on a response from DCPS. Meanwhile, the DCPS investigation of Donofrio is ongoing. No date has been given on when the internal investigation will conclude.

About the Authors:

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.

Veteran journalist and Emmy Award winning anchor