After Florida teacher Amy Donofrio refused a request by school officials to remove a Black Lives Matter flag hanging outside her high school classroom, she was reassigned to nonteaching duties and banned from her school’s campus. The Southern Poverty Law Center and its co-counsel, Scott • Wagner and Associates, P.A., filed a federal lawsuit to uphold the rights of Donofrio and her students, including their right to express their support for Black Lives Matter. The lawsuit names as defendants, the Duval County Public School District and Scott Schneider, high school regional superintendent and former Robert E. Lee High School principal.
Years before the incident in 2021, Donofrio, a veteran teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, was an advocate for racial justice at the predominately Black high school, co-founding the EVAC Movement, a nonprofit social justice organization, with her students. EVAC, initially a class offered for school credit, garnered national attention, so much so that President Barack Obama met with EVAC students and Donofrio when he was visiting Jacksonville.
By late 2020, Donofrio displayed a Black Lives Matter flag outside her classroom. School administrators asked her to remove it because they claimed it violated district policy. However, when she asked which policy the flag violated, the district provided two policies that did not apply to her, a point she raised with the district. When Donofrio did not receive a response, she continued to display the banner.
By March 2021, the district began holding public meetings to respond to community members’ demand to change the name of Lee High School, which is named after a Confederate general, avowed white supremacist and owner of enslaved people. The school held a series of public meetings punctuated by racist statements from several alumni. Donofrio complained to school board members about the school administration requiring Black custodial staff to remain in the cafeteria, away from the meetings. She also raised concerns about the emotional harm inflicted on students by the hate speech allowed by the district at these meetings.
After her complaints, Donofrio was ordered to take down the Black Lives Matter flag posted outside of her classroom. This time, the district pointed to a new policy that stated: “No employee shall use his/her position in any way to influence or attempt to influence students to support or oppose any candidate, party or issue. Such prohibition shall include, but not be limited to, any form of advocacy or opposition in a classroom or school setting or other school-related student-teacher relationship.”
Donofrio did not take down the flag.
During a March 23, 2021, meeting about renaming the school, the high school’s administration removed the Black Lives Matter flag. Donofrio was reassigned to nonteaching duties as of March 25, 2021.
The federal lawsuit includes both federal and state law claims that call for the protection of Donofrio’s employment and First Amendment rights that were violated and an end to the retaliation from the school district. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.