INDIANAPOLIS — A federal judge has upheld the firing of a Frankton-Lapel elementary school teacher over a Facebook post criticizing a district program for young students.
In a ruling issued Monday, a federal judge in Indianapolis ruled that the firing of Jennifer McWilliams did not violate the First Amendment right to free speech.
The district fired McWilliams, a Title I reading teacher at Frankton Elementary School, after a post on her personal Facebook page in February 2020. McWilliams’ post questioned the district’s use of the “Leader in Me” curriculum, a social-emotional learning program designed to “help increase leadership capacity in adults and students.”
The post included a link to a blog that criticized “Leader in Me” for creating a “cult-like atmosphere,” “corporate vibes” that resembled pyramid schemes, a potential for cultural bias, and its religious roots in Mormonism.
McWilliams also commented on the post that Frankton Elementary teachers were “evaluated on how well they implement” the program.
Four days after her post, school officials gave McWilliams the option to resign or be fired for “spreading misinformation that is untruthful about the school.”
Judge James Patrick Hanlon ruled McWilliams’ firing did not violate the First Amendment because school officials had a reasonable belief that she made false statements in the Facebook comments.
In the original lawsuit, McWilliams also claimed the district’s superintendent, Robert Fields, labeled her a “far-right radical conspiracy theorist” in 2019 when she objected to the “Red for Ed” movement.
McWilliams started the Indiana chapter of Purple for Parents. The group’s website says that it “informs, advocates, and engages Hoosiers to protect children from harmful agendas saturating the education system.”
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