$325,000 Settlement for Teacher Over Trump References Removed From Yearbook

For years, Susan Parsons stated she was advised by directors to take away “controversial” content material from the highschool yearbook in Wall Township, N.J.

Ms. Parsons, a instructor and the yearbook adviser, stated in court docket papers that she needed to erase from a photograph a feminist bumper sticker on a scholar’s laptop computer, Photoshop “fake” clothes onto shirtless college students on a faculty journey to Bermuda and take out questionable hand gestures.

But it wasn’t till 2017 that one explicit edit thrust Ms. Parsons and the district right into a nationwide firestorm over free expression and political opinion.

Ms. Parsons was suspended after eradicating a reference to Donald J. Trump on a scholar’s shirt, an motion that led to widespread information media consideration and dying threats, in response to a lawsuit she filed in opposition to the varsity district.

Ms. Parsons stated she had been advised by the principal’s secretary to take away Mr. Trump’s identify and his slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Ms. Parsons was then publicly scapegoated and muzzled by the district, the go well with stated.

On Tuesday, the district’s board agreed to a $325,000 settlement to resolve her claims. About $204,000 will likely be paid to Ms. Parsons, and the remainder will cowl her authorized charges and bills, in response to the settlement, which says the district’s insurers will cowl the prices.

“We are happy that Susan was able to achieve the justice she deserves,” Christopher J. Eibeler, her lawyer, stated on Saturday. Under the settlement, previously reported by NJ.com, the district denied any wrongdoing.

The district and its lawyer didn’t reply to requests for touch upon Saturday. Cheryl Dyer, who was the superintendent on the time of the photograph alteration, stated she had retired from the district and will not converse for it.

In her lawsuit, Ms. Parsons stated she felt it was unethical to closely edit yearbook images and had complained to the administration that the “yearbook should reflect reality.”

She was advised to take away the reference to Mr. Trump on the scholar’s shirt in December 2016 after she went to the administration workplace to choose up drafts of the yearbook pages, the lawsuit stated.

Ms. Parsons stated she had agreed to change the photograph however was confronted by the scholar after the yearbooks have been handed out in June 2017. “Why did you edit the word Trump off of my shirt?” the scholar requested. She advised him to speak to the principal.

Later that day, one of many scholar’s mother and father emailed Ms. Parsons, saying the scholar’s image had been “edited without his/our permission.”

“I would like to understand who made that decision,” the e-mail stated, in response to the lawsuit. “We felt the shirt he wore was appropriate.”

Two different college students then complained {that a} Trump emblem and a quote attributed to Mr. Trump had been faraway from the yearbook.

Ms. Parsons stated in her go well with that the emblem had been cropped out by a photograph vendor and a scholar who labored on the yearbook had left the quote out by mistake. Nevertheless, outrage was already exploding in Wall, a township of about 25,000 close to the Jersey Shore that voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and in 2020.

Ms. Parsons stated the varsity administration had begun a public marketing campaign to defend itself from duty by making a “false narrative” that she was accountable for the modifications.

For instance, Ms. Dyer despatched a letter to folks on June 9, 2017, that said, falsely, in response to court docket papers, that “the high school administration was not aware of and does not condone any censorship of political views on the part of our students.”

On June 12, 2017, the scholar whose emblem had been eliminated appeared on considered one of Mr. Trump’s favourite applications, “Fox & Friends,” and stated, “The people or person who did this should be held responsible because it is a violation of mine and other people’s First Amendment rights.”

That identical day, Ms. Parsons stated, she was summoned to a gathering with Ms. Dyer and was suspended. Days later, Mr. Trump drew extra consideration to the problem, decrying “yearbook censorship” at the highschool in a Facebook post.

Credit…through Susan Parsons

Ms. Dyer said at the time that the yearbook alterations had amounted to “censorship and the possible violation of First Amendment rights.”

“This allegation is being taken very seriously and a thorough investigation of what happened is being vigorously pursued,” she stated in a press release in 2017. The scholar costume code didn’t forestall college students from expressing their political opinions or help for a political determine, she stated.

Ms. Parsons advised The New York Post, “We have never made any action against any political party.” That prompted Ms. Dyer to ship an electronic mail to Ms. Parsons’s union consultant to remind her that she didn’t have permission to talk to the newspaper, the lawsuit stated.

Ms. Parsons stated the superintendent had cited a district media coverage that was like a “gag order” that prevented her from defending herself.

Credit…New Jersey Superior Court

Ms. Parsons, who stated in court docket papers that she had voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, stated she was quickly inundated with hate mail and harassing cellphone messages that referred to as her a Nazi, a communist, anti-American and a “treasonous traitor liberal.”

She stated she had been afraid to make use of her identify when ordering takeout meals and feared that drivers would possibly attempt to hit her when she went for bike rides.

When she returned to high school in September 2017, she stated, she was “disrespected and ridiculed” by college students and others who blamed her for eradicating the Trump references from the yearbook.

She sued the district in May 2019 and retired in February 2020.

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