Ed. Commissioner Says Duval Teacher Fired Over Black Lives Matter Showdown

May 17, 2021

State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said in a recent address that a Duval County Public Schools teacher has been fired after displaying Black Lives Matter flags.

Although he did not mention the teacher by name, DCPS teacher Amy Donofrio has been under investigation by DCPS since March after she refused to take down a Black Lives Flag outside of her classroom. 

She is also currently suing the school district for alleged retaliation and First Amendment rights violations. Donofrio’s attorneys said she hadn’t previously known the state was involved in her case, and she has not heard she has been terminated by the district.

The school district has not confirmed whether Donofrio has been fired or whether the teacher Corcoran referenced is Donofrio.

Corcoran brought up DCPS, unprompted, in a larger conversation about teachers “indoctrinating” students with critical race theory. 

“I’ve censured [sic] or fired or terminated numerous teachers for doing that,” he said. “I’m getting sued right now in Duval County, which is Jacksonville, because it was an entire classroom memorialized to Black Lives Matter. We made sure she was terminated, and now we’re being sued by every one of the liberal left groups for freedom of speech issues.” 

From the video of the speech available online, it is not clear whether Corcoran is saying he “censured” teachers or “censored” them.

Corcoran went on, “Let’s not even talk about whether it’s right or true or good what you have there. My issue is, when you’re a third-grade teacher and only 42%, 41% of your kids are on grade level, why don’t you do me a favor and get them on grade level and then we’ll have that discussion. Make them at least be able to read and understand it first.” 

Donofrio is a high school teacher.

Corcoran was speaking at the private conservative Christian school Hillsdale College in Michigan. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis has also spoken out against critical race theory, an academic framework popularized by lawyer and philosopher Kimberlé Crenshaw, among others, that recognizes the history of racism and white supremacy that continue to shape American society. 

DeSantis has called the theory an “unsanctioned narrative”  that “teaches kids to hate our country and to hate each other based on race.” Lawmakers in states including Tennessee and Idaho have banned the teaching of critical race theory in schools. 

“Ms. Donofrio was devastated to learn from Commissioner Corcoran’s public statements of the decision to terminate her employment even though Duval County Public Schools still refuses to provide Ms. Donofrio with any details of the ‘alleged misconduct’ for which she was told she was being investigated,” said Donofrio’s attorneys in a statement. “That this decision has been made by those at the highest level of Florida’s Department of Education before the DCPS investigation is even completed shows the depth of the retaliation and deprivation of due process and free speech upon which Ms. Donofrio’s lawsuit against the District is based.”

Credit Courtesy Amy Donofrio

Donofrio was a popular teacher at the Riverside-area Robert E. Lee High School, who focused on helping Black students work through trauma. She was a co-founder of the EVAC movement, a student group that won national acclaim for its work on healing from racial trauma.  Donofrio hung up the Black Lives Matter flag after one of her students, Reginald Boston, was killed by the police last year. 

She is currently represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and civil rights firm Scott • Wagner and Associates, P.A. in a lawsuit against the school district — not the state — for alleged violations of her first amendment rights. 

“While I am heartbroken that the retaliation against me continues, I will not stop fighting for my rights,” Donofrio said, “So that other teachers do not have to endure the retaliation, harassment, and humiliation that I have as a result of co-creating a safe learning environment with and for Black students.”

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