Wall Township, NJ – A New Jersey teacher has sued the school district she works for and accused them of making her a scapegoat in a very public controversy over the censorship of a Trump t-shirt in a public school yearbook.
Susan Parsons’ lawsuit alleges that the school’s principal and superintendent covered up what really happened and set the yearbook adviser up to “take the blame,” the Associated Press reported.
The incident occurred in June of 2017 when the Wall Township High School yearbooks were released to the student body.
That’s when a student named Grant Berardo realized that somebody had edited his yearbook photo to remove President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) slogan from the front of his navy blue t-shirt, the Associated Press reported.
The story quickly went viral and quickly became a national First Amendment argument.
Wall Township School District Superintendent Cheryl Dyer said at the time that neither the administration nor the student yearbook staff had a role in the decision to edit the picture, NJ Advance Media reported.
Parsons was suspended and later resigned her position as yearbook adviser.
Her lawsuit explained that school administrators regularly had her edit out anything that could be construed as controversial before the yearbook was published, the Associated Press reported.
That included words on shirts and questionable hand gestures.
Parsons said a school secretary acted as the principal’s proxy and had final say over the yearbook.
It was the secretary who told her to edit the Trump slogan off of Berardo’s t-shirt in the yearbook photo, according to the Associated Press.
Parsons said she voted for President Trump and, in her opinion, the shirt should not have been edited.
However, in Wall Township, where President Trump received 63 percent of the vote, the teacher has been treated like a pariah in the wake of the incident, NJ Advance Media reported.
Parsons said she received hate mail and threatening phone calls after the story went national, but the school district would not allow her to publicly tell her side of the story, according to the lawsuit filed against the district.
She said she’s become a paranoid recluse since being scapegoated by the school district and is afraid to leave her house in the township, New Jersey Advance Media reported.
“My life has not been the same, and I don’t think it ever will,” Parsons said. “For two years I’ve been living under someone else’s lies.”
The lawsuit Parsons filed in May calls for damages for a pay increase that she said was withheld after the yearbook incident, as well as compensation for emotional harm and other damages, New Jersey Advance Media reported.
She also wants to put an end to the school district’s policy that prohibits employees from doing media interviews without the superintendent’s permission.
“If you have any teacher that lied, withheld evidence, conspired to hide the truth… they wouldn’t have a job,” Parsons said. “How is it that this isn’t applied to administration as well?”
Parsons, a tenured employee earning $92,000 a year, was still working at Wall Township High School teaching digital media when her lawsuit was filed.
The school superintendent has continued to defend her handling of the matter and said she conducted a thorough investigation of what happened with the yearbook photo.
“I’m confident that when the full facts come to light, all of the actions of this office and the board of education will be found to be wholly appropriate,” Dyer said.
Adam Weiss, an attorney for the school district, released a statement to New Jersey Advance Media that said the district wouldn’t comment on the yearbook controversy and planned to defend itself in court.