Amy Donofrio, a Florida high school teacher, decided that after a summer of BLM protests and the murder of George Floyd, she would have a dialogue with her students on the shocking news. Her first order of business was to hang a “Black Lives Matter” banner outside of her classroom.
Donofrio had taught for nine years at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida, where most of the students were black. Donofrio, a white woman, wanted to make sure that the students felt support.
“I just wanted to make it clear to my students that when they walk into my room, they can feel safe,” she said. “They can let out a breath. They can know that they matter.”
Donofrio’s outspokenness and the banner outside her classroom would soon become a political hot point reverberating across the region. Many people discussed whether or not it would be a good idea to abandon the school’s namesake, which had ties to the Confederacy.
According to a federal complaint on Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville filed in April, Donofrio denied school requests for many months, which asked her to remove the flag from her classroom door. Her goal was to challenge the district and rebel against its poor treatment of black students.
It wasn’t until March of this year that administrators forced Donofrio to remove the flag. When the district opened a “human resources matter to review allegations of potential misconduct,” the school reassigned her with a non-teaching job.
As of now, Donofrio is in the midst of a lawsuit with Duval County Public Schools the Duval high school superintendent. Her, Scott Wagner and Associates, and the Southern Poverty Law Center are alleging the school district denied “her rights for protected speech, her complaints about discrimination, and, more broadly, her support of Black students’ lives.”
Tensions were on the rise between Donofrio and the school district even before she put her flag on the door. For many years, Donofrio used professional development, civic engagement, and college preparation to empower her black students.
They eventually formed the EVAC Movement Organization after she and her students earned national attention.
Though the course was a major success, Donofrio claimed that the administration was incredibly unsupportive behind the curtain. They would often cite budget cuts to cancel her classes or call her class a “school activity” rather than what it was.
Her intention with the BLM flag above the classroom door was to show students they were in a safe space when in her class. The school’s assistant principal was the first person to ask her to take the flag down, citing the school district’s policy. Even after asking for specific complaints, she was never given any clarification.
The lawsuit comes just in time as the country’s Republican officials are looking to ban “critical race theory” in public schools.
Richar Corcoran, Florida’s education commissioner, recently put out a proposal to prohibit teachers from attempting to “persuade or indoctrinate” students or express their personal views when they aren’t relevant to the current curriculum.
The attacks aren’t a surprise for Jackson, a Southern Law Center attorney.