A former New Jersey teacher won a $325,000 settlement from a school district, after she claimed the school forced her to edit a Donald Trump T-shirt out of a yearbook photo in 2017.
The Wall Township School District agreed to the settlement with former school district teacher Susan Parsons on Tuesday, NJ Advance Media reported.
The financial agreement came after Parsons sued the school district in 2019, alleging that two years earlier the school forced her to digitally alter a “Make America Great Again” logo on a junior student’s T-shirt—and then used Parsons as a scapegoat to blame her for the incident.
Parsons, then a school yearbook adviser, said that a secretary who served as a proxy for the principal ordered her to make the edit, NJ Advance Media reported.
“That has to go,” the secretary allegedly told Parsons after seeing the pro-Trump logo on student Grant Berardo’s shirt.
The incident then made national headlines following parents and students’ outrage over the censorship.
Grant Berardo’s father called the move at the time a political “agenda,” and said he was disappointed that the school didn’t want to encourage free speech.
“What I would expect from teachers is fair and unbiased instruction and discourse,” Joe Berardo said in 2017, according to NJ Advance Media. “To discuss the pros and cons of politic positions, and encourage the free flow of ideas from both sides.
“This [censoring the picture] doesn’t say that,” he added. “This says there is an agenda at work.”
In response to the criticisms, the school district said it launched an investigation in 2017, and subsequently placed Parsons on paid leave over the incident, The Washington Post reported.
Parsons, who herself voted for Trump in 2016, said she filed the lawsuit in 2019 after taking the blame, according to the news outlet. The lawsuit also alleged that Parsons received death threats over the incident.
“The motivating reason for this lawsuit is so that she has the ability to get her story out to the world,” Parsons’ attorney, Christopher J. Eibeler, told the Post.
On Tuesday, the Wall Board of Education approved Parsons settlement agreement but made no admission of wrongdoing or liability, NJ Advance Media reported. The payment will be made by the district’s insurance carrier.
Parsons will receive about $204,000 of the settlement money after covering attorney fees.
In 2019, the former teacher told the New Jersey news outlet that being falsely blamed for the incident had damaged her character and changed her life.
“Even though this information is coming out, not everyone is ever going to be told the truth,” Parsons said at the time. “Most people don’t care. They’ll just remember ‘That woman, that nutcase, who did she think she was?'”
“My life has not been the same,” she added, “and I don’t think it ever will.”
Newsweek contacted the Wall School District for additional comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.