Parents in Michigan have launched a lawsuit against their children’s school district. They allege that their social media posts were being monitored by the school district and in some cases, they were even reported to the parent’s employers. It is believed that these actions were tied to parents who have been critical of the school district’s COVID-19 policies.
Robert Shaner is the superintendent of the Rochester Community Schools in Michigan. He allegedly monitored the social media posts of parents who criticized his district’s policies on the pandemic. He then reported those parents to their employers and in at least one case, the police. Shaner said that he was “concerned and scared” about the “aggressive” social media posts from some parents. Some of the posts suggested a protest outside school board members’ homes.
The lawsuit from the parents was filed in May of 2021 and was amended earlier this month. It was brought to the court by Elena Dinverno, she has two children in Rochester Community Schools. The lawsuit alleges that Shaner along with high-ranking members of the school board contacted Dinverno’s employer and made a false claim that she had made threats against the school board. She was later fired from her job.
Dinverno advocated in two distinct Facebook groups that schools should be reopened in person. The groups were “RCS Parents for In-Person Education” and “Conservative Parents for Rochester.” She asked other parents for video testimony regarding how virtual school was harming their children.
The lawsuit states that Rochester Community Schools asked their public relations members, Amy DiCresce and Lori Grein, to put together a dossier on district parents’ social media posts and comments that were critical of the school district. This dossier was then circulated to school officials. The lawsuit alleges that the school spent taxpayer money to “surveil parent social media posts and gather personal information, including place of employment, names of children, and the schools they attend.”
Sarah Gordon, Dinverno’s lawyer, developed a stack as big as a phone book with parents’ posts critical of the school district.
It was the Detroit News that first reported about Robert Shaner’s actions. This all started after Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order in April of 2020 that closed the schools for the rest of the school year. Dinverno became what she called a “vocal and effective advocate” for re-opening schools. She was quickly contacted by the school board for being a part of a group that was engaging in making threats against the school district. One of the members of the board contacted her employer. She had to defend herself to the company she worked for and said that she did not make any threats and was only being a strong advocate for her position on her children’s education.
This mother then complained to the board directly and then made the same complaint to Shaner himself. He said that he could not do anything and criticized her participation in the Facebook groups.
Dinverno was eventually fired from her job.
She later learned that other parents had been contacted by the school board, including one parent who was employed by the local police department. Several parents received a cease and desist letter from RCS lawyers. They were told to stop criticizing the school board and they were threatened with legal action.
Shaner wrote in his deposition that the board monitored parents’ social media feeds.
“We do watch it and try to make sure we know what’s going on in our community, but that’s not the only place that we get information on social media,” Shaner said. He also confirmed the calls to the police, even one about a parent who worked for the police department. He said that he was concerned about the parent’s behavior.
The lawsuit accuses the district of violating the First Amendment law and seeks compensation for “past and future economic and non-economic damages.”
Let’s hope that the parents stay strong and this lawsuit lets other school boards know that they can’t spy on parents and use their social media to retaliate.