FRANKTON — A former Frankton Elementary School teacher has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the school violated her right to free speech by firing her for criticizing school curriculum in a February Facebook post.
According to a press release from The Bopp Law Firm in Terre Haute, Jennifer McWilliams, who taught Title I reading at the school, became concerned about a new "social and emotional" curriculum called "The Leader in Me."
Among McWilliams' concerns, according to the law firm, is that "the school inappropriately mixed church and state because the curriculum is largely based on church doctrine."
According to the release, McWilliams used her personal computer and phone after school hours to post her concerns on Facebook. Three days later, school officials gave her the choice of resigning or being fired, the press release says. A supervisor told her that disagreements with school programs "could not be shared outside of school because they would reflect badly on the principal of the school," the law firm reported.
The release notes that McWilliams had never had a negative job performance evaluation.
The complaint, filed Friday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, contends that McWilliams had spoken as a private citizen and that by firing her, the school had violated her First Amendment rights.
The suit asks for "a declaration from the Court that the school violated her constitutional rights, preliminary and permanent injunctive relieve (sic) from any reference to her employment termination in her employment record, and for the court to order the restoration of her employment as a Title I Reading Teacher."
“The U.S. Constitution protects all of us, including public school teachers, from the government’s unlawful infringement on our free speech rights," James Bopp Jr. of the law firm says in the press release. "As a citizen and as a parent, she had every right to criticize the curriculum in a letter to the editor of a local newspaper on her own time — here, she had every right to post the modern-day version of a 'letter to the editor' — a Facebook post — doing the same."
McWilliams' additional complaints about "The Leader in Me" curriculum included the following in the release:
• "the curriculum usurped the parents’ primary role for teaching morals and values to their children;
• the time dedicated to Leader in Me activities took critical time away from academic learning in the school;
• parents had no way to 'opt out' of the curriculum as it was incorporated into virtually every aspect of the school’s culture and programming;
• Frankton Schools would begin mentoring other schools to implement the Leader in Me Curriculum; and
• part of the teachers’ evaluations were based on how well he or she implemented the curriculum."
Frankton is a town in Madison County, northeast of Indianapolis, with a population of fewer than 2,000 people.
This story will be updated.