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ACLU Files Free Speech Suit on Behalf of Rejected Teacher Applicant in Lincoln

Posted: August 27, 2004|Category: Free Speech

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The ACLU of Rhode Island today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Lincoln resident Karen Elias Clavet, who was not hired for an art teaching position in the Lincoln public schools this summer despite the recommendation of an independent hiring committee and the school district superintendent. The lawsuit, filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Jennifer Azevedo, claims that the school committee took no action on her appointment because she has been a sometimes-vocal critic of some school district practices. The suit seeks a court order appointing her to the teaching position and barring the school committee from otherwise retaliating against her for her political activities.

The ACLU’s complaint provides details of the unusual circumstances surrounding Clavet’s non-appointment. In June, Clavet, who currently teaches in Coventry, applied for two positions, a part-time teaching opening at the high school and a full time position in the middle school. A screening committee initially recommended her for the high school position, and her appointment was placed on the July school committee agenda. At that meeting, however, the superintendent withdrew the recommendation, citing the uncertainty of the part-time schedule. When Clavet checked the next day to learn the status of her middle school application, she was advised it was not on file. After further inquiries were made, she was finally given an interview, and she was recommended to fill the middle school position. However, at the August 14th school committee meeting, when her appointment to that position came up for a vote, no school committee member moved her appointment. School committee members also offered no explanation for their inaction. A week later, both teaching positions were readvertised.

At a school committee meeting this week, members of the screening committees that had recommended Clavet publicly raised concerns about these events, but were given no response. A friend of Clavet’s who serves on the school committee, Susan McClain, stated that other members of the school committee had expressed concerns to her about Clavet’s political beliefs. In addition, at this meeting all new appointments were handled in one vote, unlike the August 14th meeting, when appointments were taken up separately.

Clavet said today: “My goal in all of this is to make sure that what is best for the children of Lincoln comes before petty town politics.” ACLU attorney Azevedo added: “This is the worst form of abuse of power, predicating people’s livelihood on their allegiance to one group’s political beliefs.” A hearing on the ACLU’s request for a temporary restraining order is expected to be heard early next week.

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