Judicial Watch announced today it has appealed a federal court decision dismissing a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of David Flynn, a Massachusetts father who was fired from his position as high school football coach after he raised concerns over Black Lives Matter/critical race theory being taught in his daughter’s seventh-grade ancient history class (Flynn v. Forrest et al. (No. 21-cv-10256)).
The lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, sought damages against the superintendent, high school principal, and high school athletic director for retaliating against Flynn for exercising his First Amendment rights.
Judge Indira Talwani, in an opinion dismissing Flynn’s lawsuit, stated multiple times that Flynn exercised his First Amendment right to freedom of speech when he raised his concerns to the city’s school committee:
[A] reasonable jury could find that Flynn’s criticisms were directed at what he perceived to be the school district’s repeated failures to adequately inform parents of the changes to the school district’s curriculum and values and to address his daughter’s concerns.
A reasonable jury could find that Flynn’s email was sent in his capacity as a parent to the person who convened the meeting and, in Flynn’s view, did so with no intention of working through the issues Flynn had raised regarding the curriculum and the teacher’s use of the BLM emoji.
A reasonable jury could therefore find that the Flynn’s speech was not related to his position as head football coach and that he spoke predominantly as a concerned parent.
The court accordingly concludes that a reasonable jury could find that Flynn’s speech was protected speech.
[M]ere disputes over policy, without more, cannot outweigh Flynn’s free speech interest; the right to express such disagreement is at the core value protected by Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.
Despite these findings, the court concluded that Flynn could be fired because of his criticism of the school superintendent (even though the letter firing him made no reference to the criticism).
The lawsuit details that in September 2020, Flynn’s daughter’s seventh-grade history class, which was listed as “World Geography and Ancient History I,” was taught issues of race, gender, stereotypes, prejudices, discrimination, and politics. The lawsuit explains:
In one assignment, Plaintiff’s daughter was asked to consider various “risk factors” and “mitigating factors” that two people – one identified as “white” and the other identified as “black” – purportedly might use to assess each other on a city street. Included among the various factors were skin color, gender, age, physical appearance, and attire. “Black,” “aggressive body language” and “wrong neighborhood” were among the “risk factors” purportedly assessed by the person identified as “white.” “White” and “Police officer” were among the “risk factors” purportedly assessed by the person identified as “black.”
Concerned about the abrupt change in curriculum, Flynn and his wife contacted the history teacher and principal of the school – then later Superintendent Michael J. Welch and three members of the Dedham School Committee. On more than one occasion the Flynns asked for assistance in resolving the issues with the curriculum. Ultimately, in October 2020, the Flynns removed their children from school. The Flynns’ list of concerns included:
- Dedham Public Schools changed the curriculum of the seventh-grade history class without notifying parents or having a course description and syllabus available for parents to review
- The new seventh-grade history class curriculum containing coursework on politics, race, gender equality, and diversity that were not suitable for twelve- and thirteen-year-olds;
- The seventh-grade history teacher not teaching topics of politics, race, gender equality, and diversity objectively;
- The seventh-grade history teacher using a cartoon character of herself wearing a t-shirt supporting a controversial political movement; and
- The seventh-grade history teacher using class materials that labeled all police officers as risks to all black people and all black males as risks to white people.
In January 2021, Flynn, who had been the head football coach at Dedham High School (DHS) since 2011, was called into a meeting with Welch as well as the DHS principal and athletic director. At the meeting, Welch handed Flynn one of the emails he had written to the Dedham School Committee members and informed him that one of the committee members asked Welch, “What are we going to do about this?” At the end of the meeting Flynn was told that they, “were going in a different direction” with the football program. Minutes later, the superintendent, high school principal, and athletic director released a public statement, stating that Flynn was removed as head football coach because he “expressed significant philosophical differences with the direction, goals, and values of the school district.”
Flynn’s written objections to the BLM/critical race theory included:
The Superintendent has had the opportunity to make sure the Dedham teachers conduct themselves as professionals and to teach the courses objectively and without biased opinions. He chose not to. I believe that the real men and women in the world are the ones who have the ability to compromise, especially in extremely controversial situations. Compromise allows people to experience life as a team. This is where unity brings individual pride together and relationships begin to strengthen. I believe all relationships are based on compromise. The Superintendent was not willing to compromise. I explained to him that if the teacher teaches the course objectively and removes the BLM logo from the class, people will soon get over the fact that the class was purposely created without notifying parents and without having a visible course curriculum, syllabus and learning objective. Apparently, it does not mean much to him that the Dedham Public School System is losing two wonderful students.
Judicial Watch noted in a court filing that the superintendent of the school system later agreed with Flynn’s position and Dedham Public Schools changed their policies a few months after Flynn’s email:
With respect to the first two issues, Superintendent Welch agrees that they are matters of public concern. He believes the Flynns’ concerns about the failure to notify parents about the curriculum change were valid, and Dedham Public Schools changed their policies in the months after the October 22, 2020 email…. (“We’ve made changes in policy at the school committee level. We’ve established a curriculum advisory that incorporates parent and community members to broadly review any changes around curriculum or concerns that may arise. And I made it clear to [the Assistant Superintendent] that if were there changes that were occurring in curriculum, we should be notifying parents in advance so they’re aware.”).
Judicial Watch also informed the court that the Superintendent and several school committee members, like the Flynns, had concerns about the teacher’s use of a Black Lives Matter Memoji.
“Coach Flynn deserved better from the court, which confusingly found that he properly exercised his First Amendment rights on matters of public concern while finding he could not criticize the top political appointee in the school system,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.