Amy Donofrio, a nationally recognized teacher, co-founded the EVAC Movement with her students to address racial inequities among Jacksonville's Black youth
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Students in Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) are returning to school next week, but Amy Donofrio, a 13-year, nationally recognized educator who was banned from her classroom at Robert E. Lee High School in March after declining to remove a Black Lives Matter flag above her classroom door, will not be there to greet them because the district did not renew her contract.
DCPS teachers 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 District withheld notice from Ms. Donofrio until June 30, the last day of her contract.
The District made this decision despite Ms. Donofrio’s current designation by the Florida Department of Education as “highly effective,” based on her exceptional evaluation and student growth scores. It follows years of alleged retaliation by DCPS and former principal Scott Schneider against Ms. Donofrio for her efforts in opposing racism towards Black students at Robert E. Lee High School, which is now known as Riverside High School.
“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,” Ms. 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 (SPLC) 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.
Ms. Donofrio’s legal claims were further validated by the Florida Office of Inspector General, which granted her official whistleblower status on the ground of “reasonable cause” – a designation obtained by very few applicants.
Ms. 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” Ms. 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 Ms. Donofrio in her case.
In 2015, Ms. 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 rather than celebrate their achievements, DCPS shut them down.
To learn more about Ms. Amy Donofrio and students’ continued work with the EVAC Movement, please visit: http://www.evacmovement.com/.
Amidst intense national racial reckoning and her Black students’ reports of experiencing racism, Ms. Donofrio purchased a Black Lives Matter flag that was placed above her classroom door at Robert E. Lee High School, where she taught for nine years.
Robert E. Lee High School began hosting public meetings for community members to voice opinions on changing the school’s name.
Donofrio reported to district officials that racist remarks allowed at the meetings were harmful to Black students and her videos of the racist comments went viral. The next school day, Principal Timothy Feagins abruptly told Donofrio to remove her Black Lives Matter flag or it would be removed for her. After she declined, Ms. Donofrio was re-assigned to a non-teaching position at a warehouse, colloquially known as “Teacher Jail,” for the rest of the school year.
Ms. Donofrio filed a lawsuit against DCPS and Regional Superintendent Scott Schneider
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran gave a public speech boasting that he “made sure” Ms. Donofrio was terminated, and vowed to “police” Florida teachers “on a daily basis” on what they teach about race in their classrooms. Ms. Donofrio appears to be among the first targets, despite teaching at a predominantly Black high school formerly named Robert E. Lee, with a dismal track record for its treatment of Black students.
The Florida Office of Inspector General sent a letter granting Ms. Donofrio official whistleblower status on the grounds of “reasonable cause” – a designation obtained by very few applicants.
DCPS notified Ms. Donofrio on the last day of her teaching contract that she would not be renewed.
The Board voted to settle Ms. Donofrio’s legal claims.