DCPS Settles ‘Black Lives Matter’ Flag Case, Terminates Whistleblower Teacher

Aug 4, 2021

The Duval County Public Schools board has approved a settlement in the case of Amy Donofrio, a Riverside High School teacher who sued the district over allegations of racial bias and retaliation. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented Donofrio in her lawsuit, said she has been terminated and will not return to the classroom this school year. 

Donofrio sued her employer in April over an alleged pattern of retaliation because of her work standing up for Black students. Specifically, Donofrio said she was removed from the classroom because she refused to take down a Black Lives Matter flag. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, an attorney for the district said moving forward with the case in court could have taken years, cost the district millions, and possibly gone as far as the Supreme Court. 

The district voted 6-1 to settle with board member Charlotte Joyce the lone voice voting to see the case through in court. 

“As a general rule, my instinct is to resolve disputes quickly, before taxpayer dollars are spent in litigation,” she said. “There are times, however, when a speedy resolution is not necessarily the best resolution.”

Board vice chairman Darryl Willie supported the settlement, saying a years-long case would distract the district from its mission of educating children. 

“We are seeing teachers across Florida and the country who are facing persecution from their school districts for teaching the truth in schools and for creating safe learning spaces for all children,” said Evian White De Leon, one of the SPLC attorneys representing Ms. Donofrio in her case.

Donofrio’s case took place amid Duval County's months-long debate over changing the names of school names for Confederate generals. Donofrio taught at Riverside High School, which was until this week known as Robert E. Lee High School. 

Donofrio said the public meetings in which community members voiced their opinions on the name change were harmful to Black students and her videos of the racist comments went viral. 

The next school day, Principal Timothy Feagins told Donofrio to remove the Black Lives Matter flag from her classroom. After she declined, Donofrio was re-assigned to a non-teaching position at a warehouse, colloquially known as “Teacher Jail,” for the rest of the school year.

Also occurring as Donofrio’s case moved forward was hand-wringing over the role of critical race theory in the classroom, culminating in the State Board of Education banning the academic legal theory in June. Teachers across Florida, including in Duval County, worried the rule would keep them from teaching students about America’s history of racism. Chants of “Where’s Ms. Donofrio?” were frequent at these protests. 

“Teaching is not just my career, it’s my life, my heart. Being unable to return to my classroom this fall devastates me beyond what I can fully articulate,” Donofrio said Wednesday. “But what happened to me is symptomatic of a much bigger problem, and that’s the extreme ends Duval County Public Schools has shown it’s willing to go to uphold racism. Administrators and school board members’ cowardly failure to stand beside Black students is exactly why I knew I had to.”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center,  DCPS notified Ms. Donofrio in June that her teaching contract would not be renewed, in the same month that the Florida Office of Inspector General sent a letter granting Ms. Donofrio official whistleblower status. 

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.