A variety of conflicts over curriculum changes and anti-racism materials have been reported in school districts, including the recent controversy in New York in which white families were asked to choose between “white identities” such as “white supremacists” and “white traitors”. Such controversies lead to bad complaints because they reflect the policies, curricula, or programmatic choices of a particular district. It becomes a legal matter for a district to punish parents for protesting such material. This is part of the allegations made in a recent lawsuit filed by the conservative group Judicial Watch. It is the discharged high school soccer coach Dave Flynn who claims he was fired from Dedham High School after objecting as a parent to his daughter’s course material in his daughter’s World Geography and Ancient History class. While I didn’t see the school’s response, the lawsuit highlights worrying allegations about how the district handled the matter and allegedly stood up to Flynn.
After all, Flynn was a popular coach who reportedly flipped a lost soccer program and had good relationships with the students. (There were protests after he was fired). He is also a parent with two daughters in school and became concerned after reviewing materials for the course. The complaint states:
20. During the first week of school, the plaintiff and his wife discovered that the classes their daughter was receiving in “World Geography and Ancient History I” had nothing to do with the subjects of ancient history and world geography described on the Dedham Public Schools website would have. Instead, the lessons covered issues of race, gender, stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination and politics, among other things. On one assignment, the plaintiff’s daughter was asked to consider various “risk factors” and “mitigating factors” that two people identified as “white” and the other as “black” could allegedly use to assess on a city street. The various factors included skin color, gender, age, appearance, and clothing. “Black,” “aggressive body language,” and “wrong neighborhood” were among the “risk factors” allegedly assessed by the person identified as “white”. “White” and “Policeman” were among the “risk factors” allegedly rated by the person identified as “black”.
21. Plaintiff and his wife also found that the classroom materials contained a comic book version of their daughter’s teacher – a “Memoji” – wearing a T-shirt that said “Black Lives Matter” which the plaintiff and his own Reasonably interpreted woman as a teacher expressing support for black living the movement of matter during class time.
Flynn says he raised his concerns about the school and was later fired. The school sent a message to families with children on the soccer program on January 20 stating, “We met with Mr. Flynn today because he expressed significant philosophical differences in the direction, goals and values of this school district and as a result, it was decided that “another leadership for the program” is required at this point.
However, Flynn says that as a parent he objected to the material and that his records did not show any animus, discrimination or obstruction to school policy. In fact, he thought of pulling his children out of school and eventually did. The lawsuit underscores the role of superintendent Michael Welch. Ironically, when Welch became superintendent, he stated that getting people into the classroom was a priority. Flynn made such a decision and met with Welch to express his concern about the content of a class that would affect his children. Again, this is from the complaint:
26. On October 23, 2020, Plaintiff and his wife met with Superintendent Welch at the invitation of Superintendent Welch to discuss the concerns raised in the October 14, 2020 email.
27. After the meeting, the plaintiff and his wife still did not feel that their concerns had been adequately addressed and on October 23, 2020, the plaintiff emailed Dedham School Committee Vice Chairman White and Committee members Bilafer and Briggs, three school committee members to whom he forwarded the October 14, 2020 email. The email summarized the plaintiffs’ concerns and Superintendent Welch’s response. The plaintiff concluded by stating: The superintendent had an opportunity to ensure that the Dedham teachers were behaving as professionals and to teach the courses objectively and without bias. He decided against it. I believe that the real men and women in the world are the ones who can compromise, especially in extremely controversial situations. Compromise allows people to experience life as a team. This is where unity brings individual pride together and relationships begin to strengthen. I believe that all relationships are based on compromise. The superintendent was unwilling to compromise. I explained to him that if the teacher teaches the course objectively and removes the BLM logo from the class, people will soon get over the fact that the class was created on purpose without notifying parents and with no visible curriculum, curriculum, and learning objective to have. Apparently it doesn’t mean much to him that the Dedham public school system is losing two wonderful students.
28. The plaintiff also forwarded his e-mail dated October 23, 2020 to about twenty other concerned parents. Based on information and belief, Vice Chairman White and Committee Members Bilafer and Briggs knew that other parents had received an email from the plaintiff. 29. On October 30, 2020, the plaintiff and his wife removed their children from Dedham public schools. At that time, they believed the problem was behind them.
It was obviously not “behind them”. Flynn was then fired.
We need to see the other side of this school district controversy, but at first glance it raises worrying questions about both the school district’s judgment and respect for freedom of speech. The complaint relates to claims based on retaliation for exercising the right to protected petition and language. This will be an interesting lawsuit.