Culture

Fired Football Coach Sues School Officials for Retaliation Over Political Differences

Longtime high school coach David Flynn says school violated his First Amendment rights

Dedham High School Football Coach David Flynn | Tony McLeish, Facebook

A Massachusetts high school football coach is suing three public school district officials for retaliation after he was fired for questioning his daughter’s seventh-grade world history curriculum.

Dedham Public Schools superintendent Michael Welch announced in January that the district would not renew head coach David Flynn’s contract because he "expressed significant philosophical differences" with the school district. Those differences surfaced last fall, according to a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch on Monday, when Flynn and his wife emailed a list of concerns about their daughter’s world geography and ancient history class to Welch and Dedham school committee members. In one lesson, Flynn’s daughter was asked to analyze a cartoon that depicted police officers as a "risk" to a black pedestrian. 

Flynn and his wife said parents were not made aware of curriculum updates that taught lessons on politics, bias, and race "unrelated" to a seventh-grade world history curriculum. The coursework, they said, was "not suitable for twelve- and thirteen-year-olds," and even given its focus, the lessons were not taught "objectively." Middle school history teacher Kim Randall created an avatar of herself for her online classroom that wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and used materials that depicted police officers as "risks" to black people and black people as "risks" to white people. 

After a series of emails and meetings with the superintendent and school committee members, Flynn and his wife felt the district officials failed to properly address their concerns. They removed their two children from the school district and sent them to a nearby Catholic school in October. 

The Flynns thought the move would resolve the conflict. 

But in January, Welch, Dedham High School principal Jim Forrest, and athletic director Stephen Traister met with Flynn and informed him that his contract would not be renewed. Flynn said that prior to the meeting, he had "never been provided any indication" that he would be fired.

Flynn sued Welch, Forrest, and Traister for firing him in retaliation and violating his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. According to the suit, he expressed his opposition to the district in his personal capacity as a parent and not as the district's high school football coach.

Flynn had coached football at Dedham High School since 2002 and became head coach in 2011. Off the field, he works as a special education teacher in a town outside of Dedham.

The former coach is seeking damages for the emotional distress, loss of pay, and harassment caused by his firing.  

In October—around the same time that Flynn brought up concerns about his daughter’s class—the district hired diversity and inclusion officer Oneida Fox Roye. Roye had previously worked in Boston Public Schools, where she added "culturally and linguistically diverse" readings to the K-12 curriculum.

In December, Roye said that history education in the United States is one of a handful of factors that contribute to racism.

"When people say that they don't have a racist bone in their body, they’re usually saying they’re not racist," Oneida tweeted. "Yet, there is no way that you inherit privilege from birth, learn history in our schools, work in our country, watch television and films, and not be [sic] racist." 

Since Flynn's firing, hundreds of Dedham High School parents and community members have rallied behind the coach. Members of a "Save Coach Flynn" Facebook group called for district officials to "right their injustice and reinstate Flynn as head coach."

"A parent’s voice was silenced and the athletes and community at large is [sic] also being punished," a draft of the parents’ letter said. "And to add to his injustice, the administration chose very specific language to discredit Dave Flynn’s good name, strong reputation, and possibly his career as a special needs teacher. This defamation is unforgivable."

Supporters—including parents, students, and football players—have held several rallies and demonstrations outside of Dedham High School. One of Flynn’s former players said he was "devastated" that his former coach's contract was not renewed.

"Coach Flynn is an awesome guy and we're all devastated that they fired him." Kevin O'Leary told WCVB. "Coach Flynn and Dedham football, it's like broccoli and cheese sauce, can't have one without the other."