Florida education commissioner says he made sure Amy Donofrio was fired; now her legal team’s responding

Florida Times-Union | by Emily Bloch | May 18, 2021

A Duval County teacher who hung a Black Lives Matter flag in her classroom says she heard she was fired through a YouTube video. 

On Monday, Amy Donofrio’s legal team released a statement criticizing a recent guest speaking engagement from Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran at Hillsdale College, a private conservative school in Michigan. Until recently, Corcoran was short-listed in the running for the new Florida State University President position. He is not among the three finalists for the position.

Corcoran used Donofrio as an example while speaking about critical race theory and curriculum oversight and announced that he had her fired.

Late Monday, after this story was initially published, Corcoran’s office sent a note about  commissioner’s comments, saying Donofrio was terminated from classroom instruction.

In March, the school district announced Donofrio would be removed from her classroom while Duval Schools conducted an investigation for “several allegations.” The district declined to say what those allegations are, citing the active investigation. By April, the Southern Poverty Law Center announced it was suing Duval Schools on Donofrio’s behalf.

“I’m getting sued right now in Duval County, which is in Jacksonville because there was an entire classroom memorialized to Black Lives Matter,” Corcoran said during his presentation. “We made sure she was terminated and now we’re being sued by every one of the liberal left groups who say it’s freedom of speech issue.”

Duval County Public Schools told the Times-Union on Monday morning that Donofrio is still an active employee within the school district. 

“The employee is assigned to paid, non-teaching duties,” a spokeswoman said. 

Public records show that Donofrio’s teaching certificate is still active and that she has faced no disciplinary actions from the state department of education as of this time. 

A spokeswoman for the Southern Poverty Law Center said now that Corcoran’s statement about Donofrio is out in the open, they need answers. 

“Ms. Donofrio was devastated to learn from Commissioner Corcoran’s public statements of the decision to terminate her employment even though Duval County Public Schools still refuses to provide Ms. Donofrio with any details of the ‘alleged misconduct’ for which she was told she was being investigated,” a statement from the SPLC said.

“That this decision has been made by those at the highest level of Florida’s Department of Education before the DCPS investigation is even completed shows the depth of the retaliation and deprivation of due process and free speech upon which Ms. Donofrio’s lawsuit against the District is based. According to Corcoran, a classroom that teaches Black Lives Matter or what Corcoran has labeled ‘crazy liberal stuff’ justifies censorship and the firing of teachers.”

In an email obtained by the Times-Union, Donofrio’s legal representation told the City of Jacksonville Assistant General Counsel Ariel Cook, that the school district’s investigation seemed like an effort to “invent reasons to support the communicated directive to terminate her” since “the state’s top education professional … has already made the decision to terminate her.”

Donofrio described hearing Corcoran’s latest statement as heartbreaking. 

“While I am heartbroken that the retaliation against me continues, I will not stop fighting for my rights so that other teachers do not have to endure the retaliation, harassment, and humiliation that I have as a result of co-creating a safe learning environment with and for Black students,” she said. 

At 7:13 p.m. Monday evening, Corcoran’s office sent the Times-Union a statement clarifying his remarks about Donofrio.

“The Commissioner referred to censure, firing and termination in his answer at Hillsdale College. All are recommendations he makes to the Office of Professional Practices Services on an ongoing basis and are well within his power,” a spokeswoman said. “In referring to the Jacksonville case, he used ‘terminate’ to indicate the decision to terminate the teacher from classroom instruction. This was done by the district and the Commissioner was in agreement. Obviously, The Commissioner possesses significant authority to ensure every child has access to a world-class education free from indoctrination.”

Image: Amy Donofrio stands out of Lee High School. Courtesy of Donofrio

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