Teacher sues school after being fired for criticizing curriculum on Facebook

She argues her First Amendment rights have been violated.

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A teacher in Indiana is suing her employer after she was terminated for criticizing a curriculum enhancement program on Facebook. The teacher claims that the termination was a violation of her First Amendment rights.

Jennifer McWilliams worked at Frankton Elementary as a Title I interventionist. Earlier this year, she was fired for a post on her Facebook page that criticized the “Leader in Me” curriculum, which has been adopted by Madison County’s Frankton-Lapel schools.

McWilliams’ post said:

“We are in our third year, and it literally has taken over EVERYTHING. The Language, awards, all bulletin-boards, the have a Committee dedicated to pushing this garbage into the community & children homes, and teachers are even being evaluated on how well they implement it. At this point, I’m not even sure how you could opt your child out because it’s incorporated into everything we do. We are being advised & graded on how well we use the program & next, we will mentor another school to begin using it. Parents have NO CLUE.”

The “Leader in Me” website says the program is an “evidence-based, comprehensive school improvement model — developed in partnership with educators — that empowers students with the leadership and life skills they need to thrive in the 21st century.” The website also claims the curriculum is used by over 4,000 schools in more than 50 nations.
Just four days after publishing her post, school officials told her to resign or get fired. She refused to leave and got fired, the Indiana Lawyer documented.

In May, McWilliams sued the Frankton-Lapel Community Schools at the Southern Indiana District Court. She claimed that her employer violated her First and 14th Amendments rights. The teacher argued that she commented on a matter of public opinion during her own time and using her own devices.

On the other hand, the school argued that in terminating McWilliams, it acted in good faith – it did not discriminate or retaliate against her.

We obtained a copy of the school’s response for you here.

Her suit seeks, among other things, back pay, damages, and attorney costs. However, a few weeks ago, Judge JP Hanlon of the Southern Indiana District Court, denied her injunction motion that demanded reinstatement.

In the ruling denying the injunction, Judge Hanlon said:

“The Court cannot conclude at this time on the record before it, which includes conflicting affidavits, that Ms. McWilliams knew the Facebook Comment was false or that she recklessly made the Facebook comment.

“Nor does the record allow the Court to conclude that the decision-makers at FLCS conducted ‘an adequate investigation’ and ‘reasonably believe[d][the Facebook Comment] to be false’ at the time the termination decision was made. … These are issues of fact that require further development of the record and weighing the credibility of witnesses.”

We obtained a copy of that ruling for you here.

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