A retired New Jersey teacher who alleged her bosses cooked up a plan to scapegoat her for editing a Donald Trump T-shirt out of a yearbook photo will reportedly get a $325,000 settlement from the district.
Susan Parsons, who used to work for the Wall Township School District, sued the school system in 2019 saying she was scapegoated and wound up getting death threats because of the photoshopping in 2017, NJ.com reported.
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.com reported. Parsons said she complied and made the student’s shirt look solid navy blue.
“My life has not been the same, and I don’t think it ever will,” she said in 2019.
After the story appeared in the 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.com.
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.
Parsons said the district routinely requested she makes 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.”
Although the district made no admission of wrongdoing or liability, a copy of the agreement said, it did approve a $325,000 settlement with teacher Parsons.
The settlement will be paid by the school district’s insurance. The settlement includes $204,000 for Parsons, and the rest will go toward attorney fees.
Grant Berardo, the student in the yearbook photo, said in 2017 that he wore the T-shirt because it was a “historic” statement, NJ.com reported. His father has named all his children after United States presidents, and he thought it was “pretty cool” that Trump was running at the time the photo was taken.
”If there was a problem, somebody could have just told my mom,” Grant told the news outlet. “They had a re-take day. But no one said anything.”