In January of 2021 we broke the story about Dedham High School administrators firing beloved football coach David Flynn because he sent emails to administrators asking why his 7th grade daughter was being taught critical race theory in class.
When people say that they don't have a racist bone in their body, they’re usually saying that they’re not racist. Yet, there is no way that you inherit privilege from birth, learn history in our schools, work in our country, watch television & films, and not be racist.#BIPOC #DEI
— Dr. Oneida Fox Roye (She/Ella) (@OFoxRoye) December 19, 2020
— Dr. Oneida Fox Roye (She/Ella) (@OFoxRoye) December 20, 2020
Flynn got nowhere with the principal, who told him that these sort of lessons helped kids “understand their identities,” as white people. She said that teachers were supposed to be neutral on political issues, but allowed her teachers to wear BLM shirts in class. Additionally, parents were not informed about any changes in the curriculum that allowed this to be taught in classrooms.
So he went to Superintendent Michael Welch, who told him that he fully supported BLM, and was committed to being more involved with diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Dissatisfied, feeling unheard, and acting as a parent, Dave Flynn then wrote an email to the School Committee complaining about the way he was treated. For his advocacy and free speech Flynn was not rehired as head football coach.
The blog sparked outrage, got over 100K views, and caught the attention of Judicial Watch, which agreed to sue the district on his behalf. The lawsuit seemed to hit a dead end when a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in June, despite admitting that he was exercising his First Amendment rights.
Judge Indira Talwani, in an opinion dismissing Flynn’s lawsuit, stated multiple times that Flynn exercised his First Amendment right to freedom of speech when he raised his concerns to the city’s school committee.
Judge Talwani pointed out that Flynn was speaking as a parent, not an employee, when he wrote an email to the School Committee criticizing the superintendent for allowing his daughter’s school to brainwash children with CRT.
But she concluded that the superintendent was due “a modicum of respect,” and because Flynn had criticized the superintendent it was grounds to fire him as the football coach.
She also stated that opposing CRT is grounds for termination if the school district’s stated goal is “advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Judicial Watch appealed the ruling, since school districts don’t have the right to politicize their mission statement. On appeal the district agreed to settle with Flynn, presumably for an undisclosed monetary settlement and this apology letter from Welch, in which he promises to ban teachers from wearing BLM clothing in class:Flynn-v.-Forrest-letter-10256
I hope you and your family are well. I am writing this letter to acknowledge the important and valid issues you raised regarding the Dedham Public Schools and the subsequent lawsuit you filed in federal court. I am pleased that we are able to amicably settle this matter after the recently filed appeal of the court’s decision.
First and foremost, I want to acknowledge and validate the concerns you initially raised regarding your daughter’s experiences at Dedham Middle School. You had every right to inquire about these issues, and you followed the appropriate steps in attempting to learn more. You correctly pointed out that the 7th grade social studies curriculum had significantly changed and parents were not informed of these changes. In probing this matter further, you discovered that the district’s website did not accurately reflect the new curriculum content, and parents were unable to understand what was being taught. Your legitimate questions prompted additional conversations at the School Committee level that ultimately led to the establishment of a Curriculum Advisory Committee that now brings together parents, community members, and district educators to broadly review and more thoroughly communicate curriculum changes and concerns. Curriculum updates are a necessary and important part of the work of school districts, and effectively communicating these improvements is a critical component of this process.
Your initial inquiry triggered a larger internal conversation about the district’s oversight in the teaching of these new curriculum units. More specifically, the sequencing of the curriculum’s identity unit and the virtual use of a Black Lives Matter emoji t-shirt by a teacher sparked a series of intense conversations about teacher autonomy and the importance of balanced messaging and viewpoints in the classroom. As you pointed out, positive intentions can often have unintended negative impacts on students. Ultimately, I directed staff to remove these t-shirt emojis and instructed them to not wear these in the classroom in the future.
Finally, I understand that after you raised these concerns at the classroom level, you left that initial conversation expecting to hear directly from the building principal. It appears this was unclear within the school and you did not hear back in a timely manner. I am sorry for this breakdown. Effective two-way dialogue among parents and school staff is the foundation of mutual trust. While we pride ourselves on this connection, in this particular instance this fueled frustration and identified room for improvement.
I regret that these initial justifiable concerns ultimately led to where we are today. As you have indicated, I appreciate your recognition of the opportunity to have improved the trajectory of this sequence. With this settlement, I hope we are able to put any divisions behind us and begin the important work of healing through better conversations and listening.
I recognize the school district’s opportunity to improve based upon the issues you have identified, and I thank you for raising them. As educators, I believe we can always learn from our experiences. Thank you for your many years of dedicated commitment to the development of student-athletes in Dedham.
Michael J. Welch
Make no doubt about it – this is a major victory. I don’t care if he got $5 from the Dedham Public Schools. The fact that he highlighted this issue, got the schools to stop teachers from politicizing their classrooms, and in doing so sacrificed his job as football coach, makes Coach Flynn a hero in my book. I’ve lost coaching jobs before for reasons that I believe were unfair (union contract dictating that teachers can displace coaches who don’t teach in the building), and although it was upsetting, when one door closes another one always opens. Andover Hockey comes to mind as well. Hopefully another school in the area that actually values people like Dave Flynn will hire him in the future. In the meantime he has a more important job to do as a father and a Braintree Middle School teacher.