- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 22, 2021

A Chicago-area teacher has filed a civil rights lawsuit against her former school district, which fired her after she criticized deadly Black Lives Matter riots in Chicago last year on her personal Facebook page.

Jeanne Hedgepeth, who taught for roughly 20 years at Palatine High School in Illinois, commented on the violent Black Lives Matter riots that occurred across the country after George Floyd, a Black man, died while in police custody in Minneapolis.

In Chicago, 82 people were shot, and 19 died over that weekend.

One of Ms. Hedgepeth’s Facebook posts read, “I don’t want to go home tomorrow. Now that the civil war has begun I want to move.”

Another post said she found the term “white privilege” as racist as the “N” word. She also praised figures such as Candice Owens, a Black pro-Trump political activist.

When she returned from vacation, she found out the school board was holding a meeting in July considering her termination based on her social media comments. In a 5-2 vote, the board moved to fire her.

“As a result of the action taken against her, [Ms. Hedgepeth] has suffered substantial damages, including loss of income and employment benefits, loss of reputation, and personal humiliation and emotional distress, among other injuries,” read the lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Illinois last week.

Ms. Hedgepeth accused Township High School District 211 of violating her First Amendment rights.

A spokesperson from the district said it is aware of the lawsuit.

“At this point it is a legal issue and we as a District cannot comment on any details. We can confirm that our board approved a resolution at our July 2020 meeting regarding the suspension and dismissal of Ms. Hedgepeth,” the spokesperson said. 

Judicial Watch, a government watchdog group, is helping represent Ms. Hedgepeth.

“The school district took what could have been a teachable moment about respecting diversity of viewpoints and turned it into a clear civil rights violation,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. “Jeanne Hedgepeth had every right to express herself freely and openly on her personal Facebook page, outside of school, about matters of undeniable public concern.”

The Supreme Court generally has been protective of free speech rights outside of schools.

The court ruled in a landmark 1968 case, Pickering v. Board of Education, that teachers do not forfeit their First Amendment rights. In that dispute, a teacher wrote to an editor of a newspaper expressing criticism of how the school board was using funding. Angered by the letter, the board fired him.

And earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a high school cheerleader who was kicked off the junior varsity cheer squad for posting “F-cheer” on her personal social media over the weekend, outside of school.

The justices said the school went too far in punishing off-campus speech.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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