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Yearbook adviser sues in dispute over pro-Trump photos

May 7, 2019
FILE - In this June 9, 2017, file photo, Grant Berardo, a student at Wall High School, flips through his 2017 school yearbook in Wall, N.J. The yearbook includes a photo of him wearing a digitally altered T-shirt that originally included the words "Trump Make America Great Again." Berardo's Trump T-shirt was digitally painted a nondescript black even though the shirt did not violate the school's dress code. Susan Parsons, the Wall High School yearbook adviser who was suspended after photos of two students were altered to remove President Donald Trump's name on their clothing is now suing the district. Parsons says school officials requested the changes in 2017 but then set her up to "take the blame." (Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media via AP, File)

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A high school yearbook adviser who was suspended after photos of two students were altered to remove President Donald Trump’s name from their clothing is suing the district, saying she was made a scapegoat.

Teacher Susan Parsons says in her lawsuit, filed Monday, that officials in New Jersey’s Wall Township School District requested the changes in 2017 but then set her up to “take the blame.”

The district, the lawsuit says, created a hostile work environment that led to harassment and death threats against her and violated her rights by barring her from speaking to the media.

Parsons is seeking unspecified damages and asking that the district policy that prevented her from telling her story in the media be struck down as unconstitutional.

“What happened to her is really just egregious,” said her attorney, Christopher Eibeler.

Superintendent Cheryl Dyer said Tuesday she could not comment on specifics because neither the district nor its counsel had seen the lawsuit.

But she said that at the time, she conducted a thorough investigation. If there is a hearing, she said, information on what took place will be made public.

“I’m confident that when the full facts come to light, all of the actions of this office and the board of education will be found to be wholly appropriate,” Dyer said.

Parsons claims she received hate mail and threatening phone calls and voicemails as the controversy turned into a national story.

In her lawsuit, she says the district routinely forced her to edit yearbook photos to alter anything that could be controversial, including words on T-shirts, hand gestures and students not wearing shirts on a school trip.

One student wore a sweater vest with Trump’s name on it. Another student wore a T-shirt carrying the words “Trump Make America Great Again.”

School officials have said one photo was altered even though the shirt the student was wearing didn’t violate the school’s dress code. The other photo was resized to match others and apparently wasn’t altered for the purpose of removing Trump’s name.

A Trump quote submitted by a third student, the freshman class president, apparently was accidentally omitted by a student.

A school secretary who had final say over the pages as a proxy for the principal told her to edit the T-shirt photo, Parsons says.

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