Students in Jacksonville, Florida, are returning to school next week, but Amy Donofrio – a 13-year, nationally recognized educator who was banned from her classroom after declining to remove a Black Lives Matter flag above her classroom door – will not be there to greet them because the school district did not renew her contract.
Teachers with Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) typically operate on a year-to-year contract, though less than 1% are not renewed each year. While other non-renewed teachers were notified prior to their last working day on June 7, the school district withheld notice from Donofrio until June 30, the last day of her contract.
The school district made this decision despite Donofrio’s current designation by the Florida Department of Education as “highly effective,” based on her exceptional evaluation and student growth scores. The move follows years of alleged retaliation by DCPS and former principal Scott Schneider against Donofrio for her efforts to oppose racism toward Black students at Riverside High School, which until recently was named Robert E. Lee High School in honor of the Confederate States Army leader who was an enslaver and white supremacist.
“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. “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.”
In April, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Scott Wagner & Associates, P.A. filed a lawsuit on her behalf.
“We decided to work with Ms. Donofrio because of the years of documented retaliation,” said Cathleen Scott, managing attorney for Scott Wagner & Associates, P.A.
Donofrio’s legal claims were further validated by the Florida Office of Inspector General, which granted her official whistleblower status on the grounds of “reasonable cause” – a designation obtained by very few applicants.
Donofrio’s case is part of a pattern of attacks targeting educators’ efforts to support Black students and oppose racism. In May, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran gave a public speech boasting that he “made sure” Donofrio was terminated, and vowed to “police” Florida teachers “on a daily basis.”
In June, the Florida Board of Education adopted a new rule attempting to ban teachers from addressing race and equity in the classroom. This directive to exclude inclusive and culturally responsive education, strategically mislabeled “Critical Race Theory,” is one of dozens of regressive policies being introduced by aggressive conservative politicians across the nation.
“Unfortunately, Ms. Donofrio is not alone. 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 Donofrio in her case.
In 2015, Donofrio and her students co-founded the EVAC Movement to address the significant inequities faced by Jacksonville’s Black youth. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, presenting at the White House, Tedx Talks and four times at Harvard University, with many becoming the first in their family to graduate high school. Last year, they became published authors in Harvard Educational Review. Donofrio’s lawsuit highlights how, instead of celebrating their achievements, the school district shut them down.
To learn more about Donofrio and her students’ continued work with the EVAC Movement, click here.
Photo at top: Amy Donofrio, left, holds a Black Lives Matter flag with a young person from the EVAC Movement in front of Riverside High School in Jacksonville, Florida. (Courtesy of the EVAC Movement)