School Committee Refused to Hire Art Teacher Because of Her Political Beliefs, ACLU of Rhode Island Charges

August 27, 2004 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
Rhode Island ACLU
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


PROVIDENCE, RI–The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today filed a federal lawsuit against the Lincoln School Committee on behalf of an art teacher who was rejected for a public school position because of her past vocal criticism of some school district practices.

Karen Elias Clavet, who currently teaches art in Coventry, received recommendations from an independent hiring committee and the school district superintendent for two teaching positions, but the school committee failed to confirm her appointment.

“This is the worst form of abuse of power, predicating people’s livelihood on their allegiance to one group’s political beliefs,” said ACLU volunteer attorney Jennifer Azevedo.

According to the ACLU lawsuit, the school committee took no action on Clavet’s appointment because she has been a sometimes vocal critic of some school district practices. The lawsuit seeks a court order appointing Clavet to the teaching position and barring the school committee from otherwise retaliating against her for her political activities.

“My goal in all of this is to make sure that what is best for the children of Lincoln comes before petty town politics,” Clavet said.

The ACLU’s complaint provides details of the unusual circumstances surrounding Clavet’s non-appointment. In June, Clavet applied for both a part-time teaching opening at the high school and a full-time position in the middle school. A screening committee initially recommended her for the high school position, and her appointment was placed on the July school committee agenda. At that meeting, however, the superintendent withdrew the recommendation, citing the uncertainty of the part-time schedule.

When Clavet checked the next day to learn the status of her middle school application, she was advised it was not on file. After further inquiries were made, she was finally given an interview and both the screening committee and the superintendent recommended she be appointed to fill the position. However, when her appointment came up for a vote at the August 14 school committee meeting, no committee member took action to move her appointment. School committee members also failed to offer any explanation for their inaction. A week later, Clavet noticed that both teaching positions were re-advertised.

At a school committee meeting this week, members of the screening committee that had recommended Clavet publicly raised concerns about these events, but were given no response. School committee member Susan McClain said that other members of the committee had expressed concerns about Clavet’s political beliefs. McClain also said that all new appointments were handled in one vote, unlike the August 14 meeting, when appointments were taken up separately.

A hearing on the ACLU’s request for a temporary restraining order is expected to take place early next week.

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release