An Olentangy Local School District employee of 13 years was forced to resign for comments she made linking the coronavirus to China and the country's subsequent profiting from personal protective equipment, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week.
The incident in April wasn't the only time Antoinette Evans, a 68-year-old study hall aide from Delaware County, has been disciplined for disruptive speech by the district, the fifth-largest in Ohio.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Columbus alleges that the district and three administrators at Olentangy Liberty High School, where Evans worked, "fabricated from Evans' innocent words bizarre accusations of bigotry, micro-aggressions against students and unprofessional conduct."
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What school aide Antoinette Evans admits to saying
On April 7, Evans was heard asking a student whom she was monitoring in a study hall, "Can you believe that the coronavirus came from China and that China is making money from sales of PPE to the United States?" according to the lawsuit.
Others, including an Asian student, heard the remark, and by the end of her work day, Evans had been sent an email telling her not to come to work the next day, pending a pre-disciplinary investigative meeting, the suit indicates.
The meeting, a week later, lasted about 45 minutes. Evans reported being "distressed and disoriented" and not understanding what she had done, according to the lawsuit.
The next day she was told that she could resign or be fired, the lawsuit alleges. She resigned effective April 22.
The district referred Evans to the Ohio Department of Education Office of Professional Standards, according to the suit. The ODE said it could not comment on Evans' status.
Evans is seeking punitive and compensatory damages in excess of $25,000 each, attorney fees and a return to her job.
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District policy states that employees have the right to express themselves, but not when they disrupt the school environment. The district declined to comment on the April incident, but said it "looks forward to vigorously defending against these claims in court," said spokeswoman Krista Davis.
The lawsuit states that Evans, who was an at-will employee with no union protection, has since suffered with "daily crying, sleeplessness, fear, anxiety, depression, humiliation, embarrassment, loss of reputation, loss of enjoyment of life and bruxism (teeth grinding)."
Olentangy district promotes liberal agenda, Evans' attorney says
Evans' attorney, Tom Condit, wrote in the suit that the district has promoted an extreme, liberal agenda and a pattern of Marxist/communist ideology, citing examples of Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, white privilege and Gay Pride campaigns. He said it is hypocritical to espouse equality in public schools when not all sides can be heard.
Other public officials in Delaware County, including Delaware County Commissioner Gary Merrell, have used the phrase "China virus" and openly criticized in public meetings the Chinese Communist Party for disseminating it.
This is not the first controversy surrounding Evans.
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In April, 2019, she was placed on unpaid administrative leave for four days after sharing a Facebook picture in March, 2019 of several U.S. Congresswomen of color alongside the text, “We are being TAKEN OVER from within!!!. What's it gonna take America?!," according to WOSU Public Media reporting at the time.
"Your posts attracted negative publicity because they contradicted our mission as a public school district 'to facilitate maximum learning for every student,'" wrote Todd Meyer, the district's chief operations officer, in a notice that was considered a final warning, according to a document in Evans' disciplinary file.
In September, 2020, she was written up again, after being called out by an English teacher who questioned Evans' response to someone else's Facebook post about keeping political opinions private and not indoctrinating students. Evans' reply stated, "Tell that to the English department."
She was cited for "a repeated and persistent pattern of using poor professional judgment," but allowed to keep her job.
Condit, of Cincinnati, said that Evans has loved her job and working with kids.
"I don't think she did one thing requiring disciplinary action, except to talk politics. I'm quite confident that she said things that you could say openly in a public library and not be called out for it."
The district, he said, wants to "crush and eliminate any traditional thinking."
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Delaware teacher's aide made to resign for COVID China remarks: lawyer