ROCHESTER, Mich. – A settlement has been reached between Rochester Community Schools and a parent who accused the school board of having him fired from his job for social media posts that were critical of the district’s response to the pandemic.
As many districts did when the pandemic hit, Rochester Community Schools transitioned to remote learning in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The move was difficult for schools, many of which did not have the infrastructure ready to support online learning, and for students and parents, who had to adjust to a significant lifestyle change.
In response, some parents from Rochester schools spoke out about their district’s handling of virtual learning, making critical remarks on social media. One parent, Elena Dinverno, says her online comments got her fired from her job after a school board member intervened.
Dinverno filed a lawsuit last year, which just reached a settlement this week. Here’s a breakdown of what happened.
behind the trial
With the pandemic in full force, Dinverno — a mother of two — says she was concerned about her children’s online education experience with Rochester schools. The mother reportedly interacted in a Facebook group, discussing her concerns and opinions about how the school district was responding to the pandemic and her desire for her children to return to in-person classes.
Following these social media posts, Dinverno says she was fired from her position as marketing director for Blake’s Hard Cider. In a federal lawsuit filed in May 2021, the mother claims the Rochester Community Schools Board saw the social media posts and contacted Dinverno’s employer, sharing what they saw.
Dinverno claims a school board member called his employer, misrepresented his online advocacy of school policies, and got him fired. The filing originally claimed the call was made by board chairwoman Kristin Bull, but Dinverno now says it was Deputy Superintendent Debi Fragomeni.
“We know that (Dinverno) was informed that her employer had received a call from a member of the board of directors … And we know that the dismissal followed afterwards,” said Deborah Gordon, Dinverno’s attorney. . “We also know that employers of other parents, we believe, have also been contacted.”
“I was in shock,” Dinverno said. “I think I was in tears. I was so upset that it came to this and someone contacted my employer. I felt violated.
The mother-of-two reportedly received a cease and desist letter from the district due to her social media posts.
“My client was nothing but polite and respectful online,” Gordon said. “This district is thin-skinned with an inability to follow the law that they literally hire attorneys at taxpayer expense to send cease and desist letters to not only my client, but others.”
“These bullying letters were definitely a tactic to try to silence a lot of us and paint us as unstable parents, crazy parents,” Dinverno said.
The complaint says the district spent time and resources directing staff to monitor parents’ Facebook groups, seek out those who strongly objected to what the district was doing, and compile reports about them for council members. school.
The depositions also reportedly revealed that Dinverno was not the only parent who asked the district to call his employer.
Continued: The mother at the center of the Rochester Community Schools social media scandal speaks out
Andrew Blake, chairman of the Blake family of companies, released a statement about the lawsuit last year, but did not comment on Dinverno’s termination.
“The Blake’s family of companies recently became aware of Ms. Dinverno’s allegations against the Rochester School District. It is our policy not to publicly discuss matters relating to current or former employees. Because Blake was not named in the lawsuit, we cannot comment on that at this time.
“However, this incident has caused a great deal of disruption to our operations with threatening inbound calls, emails and social media posts against our property and employees. of expression is questioned and that I am sensitive to this concern, Blake must now focus on the safety and well-being of our employees.
“We hope the public will instead focus on allowing our justice system to handle this matter and not continue to direct frustration or anger at our business and our staff.”
Andrew Blake, President, The Blake Family of Companies
The school district responds
After the lawsuit was filed last year, the Rochester Community Schools District released a statement, saying Dinverno’s claims were “false and baseless.”
“The allegations contained in the complaint to which you referred are both false and baseless. We would like to be able to discuss it in detail, but that is not possible now that it is in dispute.
What we can tell you is that we all realize this has been a trying year for many of our school community members, and we recognize that our families may be coping with this pandemic in very different ways.
Nothing about this pandemic has been routine, easy or predictable. But ensuring the safety and well-being of our entire school community for children and adults has always been the right thing to do.
We all wanted the same thing during this once-in-a-century pandemic – to get our kids back to in-person education with as much of a normal routine as possible – but we had to do it in a safe and healthy way. who protected our students, teachers, staff and families, including parents and grandparents.
Lori Grein, Executive Director of Strategic Communications, Rochester Community Schools
Other parents claim wrongdoing
In addition to the district calling parents’ employers, other parents in the Rochester Community Schools community have claimed that district officials target parents who are critical of the district and the school board.
After Dinverno’s story was made public, Local 4 received messages from several other parents who shared their experiences with the board and administration.
A parent, Meredith McCutcheon, said that in 2020, the superintendent called cops at her home after receiving what they believed to be a threatening message signed by McCutcheon’s name. The mother has not been charged and the email address and phone number attached to the message were not hers.
Yet McCutcheon was an administrator of a large Facebook page with other parents called Parent Advocates for Rochester Community Schools, which has been active for years on a variety of issues. She says that at one point the members of the group requested a town hall and wanted to address the council about their concerns, but she was instead met with intimidation tactics.
“It’s hard for me to say that I know for sure what happened in other cases because you don’t know all the details, but I can tell you with my situation, that says a lot. has a pattern,” McCutcheon said.
See more of his story here.
Even before Dinverno’s trial, parents in the district had complained of intimidation by the administration. After some details were made public, a large crowd attended a February 28 board meeting, demanding the superintendent’s dismissal and the resignation of some board members.
Lawsuit ends in settlement
Earlier this week, Rochester Community Schools reached an agreement with Dinverno regarding the 2021 lawsuit. Details about the settlement, including the cost of the settlement, were not made public.
The district released a statement following the settlement, saying details of the litigation could not be discussed, but that officials were working to be “responsive to the community” and its input.
“The parties to the Dinverno litigation have mutually agreed to resolve the matter. As part of the settlement, the parties have agreed that the only public comment they will make is that they agree to settle their differences; therefore , we cannot discuss this. Rochester Community Schools values the contribution of members of its community. As a responsible and respectful listener, we pay attention to newspapers, radio, television and social media to ensure that “We listen to the community. Rochester Community Schools continues to focus on the education, growth, safety, and well-being of our students, staff, and school community.”
Rochester Community Schools
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