Whistleblower Complaint Alleges ‘Gross Mismanagement’ By DCPS On Race Issues

May 18, 2021

A Robert E. Lee High School teacher who says she was removed from her classroom for flying a Black Lives Matter flag has filed a whistleblower complaint against the Duval County Public Schools district.

Amy Donofrio filed the complaint with the Florida Inspector General last month and will sit down for a formal interview with the IG’s office this week. 

The teacher was removed from the classroom this spring after what she says is a pattern of discrimination and retaliation for her work supporting Black students and fighting against racism. 

“When Amy speaks out against racism and in favor of her students’ right to speak about racism, in our view, and in Amy’s view, being censored to speak about race is really a form of racism in and of itself,” said Cathleen Scott, a civil rights attorney who is representing Donofrio. “And so that was part of her whistleblower complaint. 

In the complaint, Donofrio wrote: “I was removed from my teaching position after objecting to discriminatory practices, removal of the flag, my support for changing the school’s name, and my involvement with the EVAC movement. I have since learned that other employees of the District who stand in support of me and/or Black Lives Matter are also being subjected to harassment, intimidation, and retaliation.” 

Donofrio continued, “The District’s actions constitute gross mismanagement, malfeasance, misfeasance, gross waste of public funds, and gross neglect of duty committed by employees of this District.”

Among Donofrio’s allegations against the district are canceling the EVAC movement as a class and relegating it to a school activity, having photos ripped from her cabinets and thrown away, indefinitely transferring her to a school warehouse, unfairly denying her personal leave time and expense reimbursements compared to other teachers, and other “adverse employment treatment.” 

DCPS has declined to comment on this case because of ongoing litigation, but has in the past directed WJCT News reporters to school policies restricting political speech by employees. 

Donofrio’s interview with the Inspector General’s Office comes the day after a speech by Florida Education Department Commissioner Richard Corcoran surfaced in which he boasted of having terminated Donofrio as part of his “policing” Florida teachers who “indoctrinate” students into what he calls critical race theory. 

Upon hearing the speech, Donofrio, who has been assigned to paid, non-teaching duties in a DCPS warehouse, assumed she had been fired and asked the district about how to return her keyfob and employee laptop. 

The Florida Department of Education later clarified Corcoran meant he had supported DCPS’ decision to remove Donofrio from the classroom. 

Attorney Scott says the timing of Corcoran’s speech, which comes as the investigation of Donofrio’s whistleblower complaint is beginning to ramp up, feels important to her. 

“Here we find that the Education Commissioner making these comments that she’s being terminated, really less than 48 hours from when that investigation is really starting to get underway, is highly suspect in our view.” 

If Inspector General Laurel Lee finds in Donofrio’s favor in the whistleblower complaint, she may opt to join Donofrio in her lawsuit against DCPS in federal court. The findings of the whistleblower complaint will likely be a part of the lawsuit no matter how the IG finds. 

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