A New Jersey school district will pay $325,000 to a former teacher who claimed a school official forced her to digitally edit out a Donald Trump logo on a student’s shirt in a yearbook photo, numerous sources reported Thursday.
The Wall Township School District will pay the settlement to Susan Parsons, who has since retired from the district, after reaching the agreement Tuesday, according to the Associated Press (AP). The district made no admission of wrongdoing or liability, a copy of the agreement said, according to NJ Advance Media.
N.J. teacher blamed for Trump yearbook censorship gets $325K settlement https://t.co/zKXQZScUyU pic.twitter.com/FRzsUkmUHd
— njdotcom (@njdotcom) March 17, 2021
Parsons was a yearbook adviser at the school district when she said a secretary acting on behalf of the high school’s principal approached her in 2017 and told her to remove “Trump Make America Great Again” from a student’s shirt, NJ Advance Media reported. Parsons said she complied and made the student’s shirt look solid navy blue. (RELATED: Teachers Reportedly Demand High School Student Remove Trump Flag From Wall At Home)
“That has to go,” Parsons said she was told, according to NJ Advance Media.
The lawsuit alleged that the school district scapegoated Parsons and created a hostile work environment that led to death threats, according to the AP. She told NJ Advance Media in 2019 that she became a recluse after receiving hate mail and phone calls over the incident.
“My life has not been the same, and I don’t think it ever will,” she said in 2019.
After the story appeared in media, the school issued a statement saying it was investigating what happened and rebuking censorship of political views on the part of students.
“There is nothing in our student dress code that would prevent a student from expressing his or her political views and support for a candidate for political office via appropriate clothing. Rather, I applaud students for becoming involved in politics and for participation in our democratic society,” the letter said, according to a 2017 report by NJ Advance Media.
Parsons, who said she voted for Trump in 2016, also claimed her rights were violated because she was prohibited from speaking with the media.
Prior to the settlement in 2021, Parsons received a $25,000 settlement from a 2019 lawsuit challenging the school district’s policy that allegedly prevented her from talking to the media about her perspective on what happened. The district made no admission of wrongdoing in that settlement, according to NJ Advance Media.
Parsons said the district routinely requested she make edits of yearbook photos that contained images of anything that could stir backlash, including words on shirts or hand gestures. She said she complained about the edits, saying the “yearbook should reflect reality.”
Trump won nearly 62% of Wall Township in the 2016 presidential election, and 58.5% in the 2020 election, according to NJ Advance Media.
After the incident, Parsons was suspended with pay. Parsons will receive $204,000 from the settlement, while the remainder will go toward attorney fees, the agreement said, according to the AP. The payment will be made through the district’s insurance carrier, according to NJ Advance Media.