A teacher who deleted a President Trump logo from a student’s yearbook portrait sued her New Jersey district for making her a public “scapegoat.”
Susan Parsons, a media/technology teacher at Wall High School was suspended in 2017 for doctoring a photo of Grant Bernardo, then 17, who wore a blue "TRUMP Make America Great Again" shirt in his class picture.
"I mean, he is our president,” Grant told NJ.com at the time. “He's the president of the United States. How is that offensive?” Grant reportedly wore the shirt to make a "historic" patriotic statement since all his siblings are named after U.S. presidents.
Grant’s father Joseph Bernardo, who did not return an interview request from Yahoo Lifestyle, told NJ.com in 2017, "But this is egregious. This is a free speech issue. And if we come to find out they blacked-out Clinton or Sanders shirts, that's just as egregious.”
The boy’s mother Tammy, who works at the high school, was never included in any conversations about her son. "If there was a problem, somebody could have just told my mom," Grant told NJ.com. "They had a re-take day. But no one said anything."
Coincidentally, yearbook content submitted by two siblings was also manipulated — a boy’s shirt was re-cropped to hide its Trump logo and his sister’s inspirational quote by Trump was deleted. Both were credited to a photo-resizing issue and a genuine oversight, however, the students’ mother called it “purposeful and wrong.”
After the yearbook’s June 7, 2017, publication, Cheryl Dyer, the superintendent of Wall Township Public Schools, reportedly told parents that she was "investigating an allegation of censorship and the possible violation of First Amendment rights in the high school yearbook this year.”
Dyer wrote in the letter, "There is nothing in our student dress code that would prevent a student from expressing his or her political views and support for a candidate for political office via appropriate clothing. Rather, I applaud students for becoming involved in politics and for participation in our democratic society. The high school administration was not aware of and does not condone any censorship of political views on the part of our students ... The actions of the staff involved will be addressed as soon as the investigation is concluded."
Eventually, the yearbook was reissued with an apology from Dyer.
But Parsons was blamed and suspended for the remainder of the year. In her lawsuit, filed Monday against the Wall Township Board of Education and Dyer, Parsons — a Trump supporter herself — claims she was ordered to remove the “controversial” content.
For previous yearbooks, Parson dutifully edited cell phones, hats, a pro-feminism computer sticker and a blue bow from a male student’s hair, reads the lawsuit. One time Parsons was allegedly ordered to digitally erase the wheelchair of a disabled student as a “nice” gesture, to the horror of her parents.
The lawsuit posits that when a school secretary came across Grant’s shirt, she said, “That has to go.”
The suit reads, “Without conducting any proper investigation into the allegations with respect to the 2017 yearbook, Defendant Superintendent Dyer immediately initiated a public campaign to shield the administration from any responsibility for the yearbook edits by creating a false narrative to cause the public to falsely believe that Plaintiff was responsible for the censorship of the 2017 yearbook.”
The unflattering publicity led to the harassment of Parsons. She allegedly received death threats at home and via messages to the school and a local police officer provided security to Parsons’ home. Yahoo Lifestyle could not reach a member of the Wall Township Police Department for comment.
The lawsuit said the district acted with “malice” and that its actions were “....so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and are regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”
Dyer tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “Neither the district, nor its counsel has received or seen the lawsuit. Therefore I cannot comment on the specific content of the suit, at this time. The district had contacted its insurance carrier once we were advised that a law suit was going to be filed and we are awaiting a response from them as to our legal options.”
She continues, “I can say that at the time of the incident I conducted a thorough investigation into the matter. If and when there is a hearing on this matter, information regarding what took place will be made public and I'm confident that when the full facts come to light, all of the actions of this office and the Board of Education will be found to be wholly appropriate.”
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