An outspoken Oakland County parent takes her fight with a local school district from online forums to federal court.
Elena Dinverno of Rochester, who objected strenuously to remote learning as a pandemic precaution, accuses the district, its superintendent and its school board president of restricting her free speech by complaining to her employer. Detroit News education writer Jennifer Chambers reports on the unusual case:
A parent in Rochester Community Schools has filed a federal lawsuit against the school district, alleging its board president called her employer and got her fired for advocating on social media for schools to reopen. ...
Dinverno has two children in the district, which began the school year remotely last fall. In the lawsuit, Dinverno describes herself as a "vocal and effective advocate for her position" who frequently "questioned and criticized" the decisions of the board through posts and comments in two Facebook groups. ...
The suit alleges that in the fall, a member of the board contacted her employer, Blake’s Hard Cider Co. in Armada, where she had worked as marketing director since 2019, and falsely claimed that Dinverno was participating in a group launching threats against the school district. ... On Dec. 18, Dinverno was fired by Blake's, according to the suit, which alleges board members had contacted the employers of other parents over their online comments.
Monday's legal filing says the the board member who notified Blake's was president Kristin Bull, a journalist whose full-time job is content director at Crain's Detroit Business.
Dinverno denies making threats or going beyond "passionate and appropriate advocacy." She says the district sent her a cease-and-desist letter Jan. 14, warning against comments described as "false and injurious."
Deborah Gordon, a Bloomfield Hills attorney representing the parent, tells Chambers: "They have zero business policing her speech."
Lawyers for Dinverno also allege the district "maintains a widespread custom or practice" of contacting employers of parents who vocally oppose board decisions "in an attempt to coerce, threaten, or manipulate said employers to dissociate themselves with the parents and encouraging employers to take adverse employment actions against the parents."
The suburban district, which has 21 schools and about 14,500 students, offered only remote learning from the fall through the end of January. Students selecting in-person instruction returned to buildings five days a week by March 1, a representative tells the paper.
"The decisions we have had to make are complicated and imperfect and often disappointing," board president Bull posted on her Facebook page last October while running successfully for another six-year term. "The division in our community is heartbreaking."