WLRN | By Kate Payne | December 15, 2022
A School District of Palm Beach County administrator claims she lost her job for speaking out about Republican education policies on Twitter.
Diana Fedderman, a career educator and Former Assistant Superintendent in the Division of Teaching and Learning, is suing the school district for what she believes is a violation of her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.
Just before 7 a.m. on a January morning, Fedderman sent a tweet from her personal account. “Republicans are waging a war to decimate public ed,” she wrote. “This is the time for a grassroots approach- vote local.”
Fedderman alleges she was removed from her position because of that tweet and was transferred to a grant-funded role that will end one year before she’s eligible for retirement — a reassignment that she considers a demotion.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court, Fedderman claims Superintendent Michael Burke called her personally on Jan. 14 to discuss the tweet, which Burke said was flagged to him by state lawmakers.
”While Superintendent Burke acknowledged during the phone call that he could not order Ms. Fedderman to take the tweet down, and said that he was not asking her to do so, he mentioned that people reading her tweets were conflating her public and private personas,” reads Fedderman’s complaint, “and [i]nformed her ‘[t]his is not the first time your Twitter account has come to my attention.’”PBC-Admin-claims-tweet-complaint
The lawsuit comes at a time when Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials are exerting more control over local education policy — implementing policies that empower parents’ abilities to challenge books, curriculum and teaching materials, and restricting how educators can address issues of race and identity in the classroom.
The Florida Board of Education has been pressuring local school districts — including Palm Beach County — to rollback policies that support LGBTQ students — and which state officials argue may violate new state laws on parental rights.
The Palm Beach County school board approved Fedderman’s transfer to a new role as Director of Supplemental Education Services on June 15. During the board meeting, Fedderman and an attorney representing her spoke out about the decision, which they said would result in her losing approximately $10,000 a year in her retirement pension.
“Why the proposed demotion? It’s simple. Because I’m a vocal ally of the LGBTQ community,” Fedderman told the board. “This is retaliation. And it’s a pattern.”
In legal filings, the school district denies Fedderman’s claims, saying she wasn’t transferred because of her statements online and that the move would have happened anyway, because the district eliminated all the assistant superintendent positions as a part of a staff reorganization.PBC-Admin-twee_defendantsresponse
“The School Board ultimately eliminated all Assistant Superintendent positions as of October 12, 2022,” attorneys for the district wrote. “Moreover, the decision to transfer Plaintiff out of her position as Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning would have happened and did happen on lawful grounds absent the tweet.”
In the lawsuit, Fedderman is demanding to be reinstated to her old job or transferred to a similar role that’s a permanent position.