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School administrators say they were forced to resign over conservative Facebook posts

Ashley Bennett, a former special education supervisor in North Penn, and Amy Sacks, a former elementary school principal in Perkiomen Valley, claim the districts violated their First Amendment rights.

The North Penn School District said a former administrator's post criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement "generated a great deal of disruption" in the community.
The North Penn School District said a former administrator's post criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement "generated a great deal of disruption" in the community.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

Two former administrators at Montgomery County public schools are suing their school districts, alleging that they were illegally forced out of their jobs over Facebook posts criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement and Democratic politicians.

Ashley Bennett — a former special education supervisor at the North Penn School District who appeared Thursday on Tucker Carlson Tonight — and Amy Sacks, a former elementary school principal in the Perkiomen Valley School District, said the districts violated their First Amendment rights, retaliating against them for comments made on their personal Facebook pages.

In Bennett’s case, she said she was forced to resign after a June 24 post that criticized Black Lives Matter, in the wake of national protests over the police killing of George Floyd. “I’m just trying to figure out WHICH black lives matter,” said the post, which someone else wrote but Bennett shared. “It can’t be the unborn black babies — they are destroyed without a second thought.” The post accused the movement of harming Black police officers, and media outlets of ignoring “black on black violence.”

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Sacks, meanwhile, said her superintendent told her she would be fired based on “cherry-picked” memes Sacks shared on her Facebook page — including one that said if now-President-elect Joe Biden was running against a potato, “I’d vote for the potato.”

Sacks — whose lawyer said she is currently on leave from Perkiomen Valley after she was forcibly demoted — also shared a meme in the midst of the George Floyd protests that asked “Is Corona Season over and we are on to Riot Season?” Another characterized the pandemic as politically motivated: “If you think the CoronaVirus panic in an election year right after 3 failed Coup attempts against Trump is a coincidence? You might be dumb as a rock!”

Both women are represented by the firm of Francis Malofiy, a Media-based lawyer who has taken on provocative cases, including suing Led Zeppelin and Usher over alleged copyright violations. Malofiy — who also appeared on Carlson’s show Thursday, declaring that “North Penn is not North Korea” — created a website to promote the cases and is soliciting complaints against public school districts “leading the charge against the fundamental freedoms that make America what it is.”

In an interview Friday, Malofiy said both Bennett and Sacks — who have also appeared on the right-wing Newsmax network — had the right to express their views and had done so on personal Facebook pages. “The fact that this has been so cut out from public schools … is a serious and dire effect we’re seeing as a result of this cancel culture,” he said.

The Perkiomen Valley district said in a statement Friday that Sacks had not been fired, but “by mutual agreement” accepted a new position with the district. It added that “we are concerned about this legal matter further dividing a community that has already been challenged by the pandemic and politics” and hoped to quickly resolve it.

Karl Romberger, a lawyer representing North Penn, said Friday that the district “did not violate Ashley Bennett’s rights. She voluntarily resigned from her position.” The district will present further defense in court, he said.

Bennett’s case was originally filed in Montgomery County, and Sacks’ case was originally filed in Philadelphia. Both cases have since been moved to federal court.

In a court filing, the North Penn district said Bennett’s Black Lives Matter post had “generated a great deal of disruption in the diverse” community, and community members “who perceived the post as racist” had voiced concerns. The district publicly acknowledged in June that it had placed an employee on administrative leave due to comments on a personal Facebook page that “do not align with [the district’s] core values.”

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While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public employees can express opinions on matters of public concern — in 1968 upholding Illinois public schoolteacher Marvin Pickering’s right to criticize his school board’s spending on athletics in a letter to the editor — North Penn argued that case might not apply to Bennett’s post.

“There is no clearly established body of case law as to whether the Pickering test shields from censure a teacher’s social media post dismissing Black Lives Matter as nothing more than an expression of hate for the United States President, denying the existence of systemic racism, and invoking ‘destroyed black babies’ and ‘black on black crime,’ ” the district said in the filing.

Appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News Thursday, Bennett said she thought the post she shared “raised valid points” and was not meant to offend.

After the post, “I woke up … and my world and my life and my career was basically turned upside down,” said Bennett, adding that she had worked in special education for 27 years.

Sacks’ lawsuit alleges that Perkiomen Valley punished her for her conservative views. “There is no question that a similarly situated left-wing administrator who made similar political posts would not have been disciplined by defendants and would not have had her due process rights violated,” the suit reads.

Asked Friday whether he had examples of a double standard, including in Perkiomen Valley, Malofiy said he had “so many examples” but declined to provide specifics. He wouldn’t want to “out” other teachers or administrators, he said, for also expressing views they should be allowed to share.