Florida Times-Union | by Emily Bloch | March 25, 2021
A well-known Duval County Public Schools teacher who is recognized for her advocacy work with Black students and juvenile justice has been removed from the classroom temporarily, according to the school district.
Amy Donofrio, a Language Arts teacher at Lee High School who co-founded the EVAC Movement, is being investigated by the school district for a human resources matter. In the meantime, she is temporarily reassigned to Duval Schools’ warehouse operations center during the review a spokeswoman said Thursday.
Amy Donofrio records her students as they find out their group, EVAC Movement, was named winner of a national kindness challenge in a file photo from 2017. Bruce Lipsky
Earlier this week, Donofrio made national news when she said school administrators told her to take down the Black Lives Matter flag hanging outside of her classroom.
Even though the flag has hung outside of her classroom for months, Donofrio said she thinks the administrators’ timing was because of the community meetings surrounding the debate around Lee High School’s name.
Donofrio would live-stream the public comments at the school’s community meetings.
It showed mostly older white adults making questionable comments and shaking their heads as students spoke in support of the name change. In one segment, a white man was captured flipping the camera off during the meeting.
Some of the footage went viral, including a portion from Joey Stevens — an alumnus who said Jesus supported slavery.
As first reported by News4Jax, Stevens took to Facebook Monday night attacking Donofrio with screenshots of Donofrio’s classroom and her Black Lives Matter flag from her social media accounts and imploring his followers to contact Lee High School administrators about her.
“This is the kind of teachers we have, pushing their political agenda on students,” Stevens wrote on Facebook. “If this offends you, speak up.”
Stevens said he didn’t think teachers should be promoting any type of organization — regardless of affiliation. But Donofrio said Black Lives Matter isn’t partisan, it’s a stance against racism.
Still, by Tuesday morning, Donofrio said she was given an ultimatum by her school administrators: take the flag down herself, or they would.
That evening, the flag was removed. Donofrio replaced it with a string of white computer paper with the text: “Lee admin took down the Black Lives Matter sign last night.”
Duval policy: Employees can’t influence students politically
Duval School policy says employees can’t use their position to influence students politically or in any form of advocacy. In December, after Fletcher High School received backlash for its football team flying the “Thin Blue Line” flag before games, a memo was distributed, banning employees from backing social movements or causes, including flags, banners and signage on district property.
On Wednesday, students decided to take matters into their own hands. Armed with markers and computer paper, they created their own mini-posters in an effort to “replace” the flag being taken down. They hung them all over campus.
A sign that said “Black and Proud!” was taped onto a doorway. Another that said “Yes, all lives matter. But Black lives just started to matter,” was attached to a pole.
Students said they wanted to host a peaceful sit-in that same day, but felt stonewalled by administrators and school resource officers.
By Wednesday evening, Donofrio’s organization, EVAC Movement, posted on social media that Donofrio was “banned from campus.”
Donofrio told the Times-Union she is waiting to speak with a lawyer before commenting on the record.
“The district has opened a human resources matter to review allegations of potential misconduct under school board policy and the Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession in Florida,” the district said in a statement. “The presumption of innocence applies; however, Ms. Donofrio has been removed from school and classroom duties while the matter is reviewed.”
While the district couldn’t confirm if Donofrio’s removal was specifically because of the Black Lives Matter flag, students and local activists say the timing of events is jarring.
“All the reason not to stop,” a former student of Donofrio’s posted on social media.
This incident only adds to the pressure Black students on campus say they’re feeling at Lee right now ahead of the final community meeting regarding the school’s name change. Several posted their support for Donofrio on social media and voiced frustrations that the reassignment seemed be sparked by her hanging a flag that says their lives matter.
But an email from Superintendent Diana Greene obtained by the Times-Union revealed that Donofrio was being reviewed by Human Resources for “several matters.”
The district was unable to comment on specifics citing that it is a human resources matter.
Donofrio’s temporary removal from campus means she is unable to attend Thursday’s community meeting.
Local activism groups including the Northside Coalition hosted a press conference Thursday morning in support of Donofrio.