News Article Details

ASD reinstates teacher suspended for personal Facebook post

The Daily Press - 12/21/2017

The Ashland School District has reinstated Sandra Gokee after previously putting her on administrative leave for views she had expressed in a personal Facebook post regarding the shooting death of her cousin, a Native American student, by a local sheriff's deputy.

According to a recent American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin release they applaud the districts decision.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that the government cannot fire people for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech ? and that is exactly what Sandra Gokee was doing when she posted to Facebook about her cousin's shooting by police," said ACLU of Wisconsin attorney Asma Kadri in the release. "Sandra Gokee has a right to express her personal beliefs about matters of public concern without fear of retaliation or punishment from the government."

The ACLU of Wisconsin had sent a letter to the district on November 30, 2017 which asserted that "Gokee's Facebook post was a form of constitutionally-protected speech, and requested that she be allowed to return to her job teaching the Ojibwe language to Ashland elementary school students without any conditions on her use of private social media accounts."

The letter also states "the issue of police relations within communities of color is a pressing problem around the country, especially police shootings. While the issue has deep, historical roots for all communities of color, Gokee's posts and subsequent comments reflect the unique history of Native American interaction with European American authority."

"After the shooting death of her cousin, Sandra Gokee turned to her personal Facebook page to express her grief and invite a conversation about police violence against Native Americans ? and she had every right to do so," said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ott in the release. "No one wants to live in a world where the government can police our personal communications and retaliate against us for views it doesn't like. Thankfully, the Ashland School District is returning Sandra Gokee to the classroom, reflecting an important recognition of the First Amendment rights of its employees."

In the release Gokee is quoted as saying "I was heartbroken by my cousin's death and hoped that by sharing my grief and anger, I could invite a dialogue about the epidemic of police violence against communities of color and the greater topic of injustices that Indigenous communities have faced and still face today. Instead, I was removed from the classroom, and may have lost a job I love. I stood up against injustice because I want people ? including the children ? in our communities to know that they can speak out against injustice and share their feelings, even if those feelings are raw and make some people uncomfortable. Without discomfort there is no societal change or growth."

Stephen Pevar, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU National Racial Justice Program expressed that police shootings are one of the most pressing and emotional issues throughout Indian country.

"Indian people should be encouraged to express their views, not punished for it," he said in the release. "In fact, all of us, Indian and non-Indian, should be discussing this problem."

District Superintendent Dr. Keith Hilts said he is unable to comment on the matter because it is a confidential personnel matter.

For more information or to view a copy of the letter the ACLU sent to district administrators visit aclu-wi.org/media/ashland-school-district-reinstates-teacher-suspended-personal-facebook-post

 
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