by Bruce Walker
After Sandra Hernden voiced her opinion to the Chippewa Valley School District school board, she says the district retaliated.
Now she’s suing the district with help from the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, alleging the board violated her First Amendment rights. Her request in damages if successful, is a public apology and one dollar.
Hernden is a Hazel Park, Michigan, police officer and mother of three school-aged boys – one of whom is classified as special needs. She expressed her concerns over the district’s remote-instruction procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. The special-needs student’s grade point average dropped from a 3.5 to 1.5. Hernden said he suffered socially as well.
“Plaintiff attributed the cause of her son’s academic and social decline to the lack of in-person instruction available during the pandemic and, as a result, became a vocal opponent to COVID-19 policies requiring remote learning,” according to the complaint filed Thursday.
“To register her objections to these policies, Plaintiff began to contact Defendants via zoom, attend in-person meetings of the school board, and e-mail Defendants,” the complaint continues.
School board member Elizabeth Pyden reported Hernden to her employer, claiming the mother’s behavior was “unbecoming of a police officer.” The Hazel Park Police Department subsequently undertook an internal investigation of Hernden in which it concluded she had violated no departmental rules.
School board President Frank Bednark, according to the complaint, sent an email to the U.S. Department of Justice in which he stated: “Anything that could be done to curb this behavior by these people would be greatly appreciated by our board, administration, and our community.”
The Mackinac Center complaint alleges the Chippewa board violated Hernden’s First Amendment rights by retaliation, quoting Pyden’s correspondence with Hernden’s work supervisor.
“For two years, I have been demoralized, humiliated, discredited and demeaned,” Hernden said in a statement issued by the Mackinac Center. “I can live with a lot of things and be called a lot of names, but none of this will stop me from fighting for my children. I’m bringing this case not just for my family, but for all the families like me who feel they have no voice.”
Steve Delie is a lawyer with the Mackinac Center.
“The First Amendment protects parents’ rights to speak up for the interests of their children. By retaliating against our client, the school board unlawfully interfered with these rights,” Delie told The Center Square. “Parents should not have to fear speaking up to express their viewpoints, and we hope this suit will inspire other parents to stake a stand against policies they believe are harmful.”
– – –
Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.
Photo “Sandra Hernden” by Sandra Hernden