If you’re reading this and thinking, “Hey, wait a minute, if this twelfth grade teacher raised the Black Lives Matter flag in October, why is that a problem?” Is a good question, and it is where this situation becomes particularly complicated. In March 2021, parishioners were able to vote on whether the name of the school, which is reminiscent of a Confederate General, should be changed. Ultimately, the school board will vote and decide on the topic during a meeting in June 2021.
How was Donofrio involved? The teacher attended some of these public meetings (which were held in the school auditorium), recorded them and posted the videos on Facebook. The footage that quickly went viral on social media included mostly white adults spitting out seriously shocking anti-black language. The teacher told USA Today that she was concerned about the well-being of color students who heard some of the language and remarks, and reported her concerns to the school administration.
From there, as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center, someone attending the public meeting complained to the school about the teacher and her flag of Black Lives Matter. Then the school again instructed Donofrio to remove the banner and had a written policy prohibiting teachers and staff from speaking. Why again? Because this is not the first time Donofrio has spoken about the banner; When she first hung it in 2020, the administrators said it was against a district policy and asked them to remove it. However, when the teacher asked to clarify which policy the banner was violating, she argued that the guidelines provided were not appropriate to her circumstances and kept the banner up.
Today Donofrio was not dismissed from her position; Instead, she is currently working in a paid role as a non-teacher, which is why she reports to the school camp seven hours a day, according to the SPLC. She no longer has any teaching duties. How was Donofrio in the classroom? As she told Suzette Hackney in an interview with USA Today, she wanted students to “be able to go into my classroom and breathe” and use the space as a haven.
The 34-year-old teacher told the point of sale that the school is less than 100 miles from where Trayvon Martin was killed and that she and her students are discussing Trayvon and George Floyd in their classroom. “It was the first time that students were allowed to talk about it in class at school,” said Donofrio. “In Jacksonville, the oppression is so intense and the systemic racism so intense – in our school system, in our police system, in our justice system – and I know it is everywhere. But Jacksonville is a special kind of place. “
And now? Donofrio, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Co-Council Scott Wagner and Associates, PA, is suing the school to protect its rights (and the rights of its students). These rights include the right to share your support for the Black Lives Matter movement. On the other hand, the school district argues that Donofrio speaks for the government as a civil servant, suggesting that her speech (in this case in the form of a banner) might be viewed as disruptive. In her federal lawsuit, Donofrio argues that her freedom of expression rights are protected by the first amendment and that the school district, specifically in Florida, would need written consent to violate it.
You can check out an interview with Donofrio below.
You can also check out a TEDx talk Donofrio gave in 2017 on the importance of labels for teenagers.