By ED WHITE, Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) — A suburban Detroit school district has agreed to pay nearly $190,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a parent who said he lost his job after criticizing COVID-19 policies.
The District of Rochester released the agreement Tuesday after a public records request by The Associated Press.
Controversies over masks, online learning, in-person instruction and other issues have plagued schools across the United States during the pandemic. But the allegations in Rochester were extraordinary: Elena Dinverno accused the district of making calls that got her fired from her marketing job.
Dinverno has participated in Facebook groups supporting the reopening of Rochester schools for in-person instruction in 2020. She said she frequently questions school board decisions.
Rochester acknowledged that an assistant superintendent, Debra Fragomeni, called Dinverno’s employer, though attorneys denied any wrongdoing.
Nonetheless, the district agreed to pay Dinverno $116,209 and his attorney $72,540 to settle the lawsuit, records show.
Dinverno said his free speech rights were violated when the district retaliated by calling his employer.
“They have no business monitoring his speech,” attorney Deborah Gordon said in 2021 when the lawsuit was filed.
The agreement prohibits Gordon and the district from discussing the settlement.
School officials sat down for formal interviews with attorneys during the litigation. Spokeswoman Lori Grein described how the district was closely monitoring social media under Superintendent Robert Shaner, The Detroit News reported.
“We compile information on so many things. … That’s what we do. We monitor,” Grein said in his deposition. “What we do is take the pulse of the community on so many things.”
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