Wall Township, NJ – A former New Jersey high school teacher who was ordered to digitally remove a “Trump Make America Great Again” campaign slogan from the front of a student’s yearbook photo will receive a $325,000 settlement from the school district.
Former Wall Township School District teacher Susan Parsons, who has since retired, said her supervisors used her as a scapegoat after the news about the student’s edited shirt made national headlines, NJ Advance Media reported.
Parsons, 66, said even received death threats as a result of the controversy.
She said she was serving as the Wall High School yearbook advisor in 2017 when a secretary acting on behalf of the school’s principal ordered her to digitally alter the pro-Trump verbiage from the student’s shirt, leaving the image with the appearance the student had been wearing a plain, navy blue shirt, the Associated Press reported.
“That has to go,” the secretary said, according to the lawsuit Parsons filed against the district in 2019.
Parsons, who voted for President Trump in 2016, followed the directive and made the edit, NJ Advance Media reported.
But when the alteration made national headlines in 2019, school officials pointed their fingers at Parsons and refused to take responsibility for the directive, Parsons said in her lawsuit.
Parsons was immediately suspended by the district, according to the Asbury Park Press.
She said she ended up hiding out in her house and cut off contact with much of the outside world due to the vitriol she suffered when she went out, NJ Advance Media reported.
Parsons said in the lawsuit she was terrified due to the flood of hateful voice messages and mail she received.
“My life has not been the same and I don’t think it ever will,” she said in the lawsuit.
She said she was frequently told to edit photos to eliminate things school officials felt could be controversial, and that she often complained about being forced to make the changes, NJ Advance Media reported.
“The yearbook should reflect reality,” Parsons said.
“During these conversations, (Parsons) and the administration often disagreed about the direct edits and what (Parsons) believed to be improper censorship to the yearbook,” the lawsuit read, according to the Asbury Park Press. “Directed edits included requests to Photoshop, crop and delete photos or content in the drafts of the yearbook pages.
The secretary who allegedly ordered the censorship of the student’s pro-Trump shirt has since retired, according to NJ Advance Media.
In 2019, then-Wall Township Superintendent Cheryl Dyer defended how the district handled the matter.
“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 told NJ Advance Media at the time.
The student pictured in the photo, Grant Berardo, explained back in 2017 that he wore the shirt because it represented a “historic” statement, NJ Advance Media reported.
“If there was a problem, somebody could have just told my mom,” Grant said. “They had a re-take day. But no one said anything.”
The school district has since reissued the yearbook with the unaltered photo of Berardo, the Associated Press reported.
The district previously agreed to a $25,000 settlement with Parsons in 2019 after she sued over the district’s policy barring her from talking about the controversy without first obtaining permission from the school district, NJ Advance Media reported.
The district did not admit liability or wrongdoing in that settlement or the one made on Tuesday.
According to the agreement, Parsons will receive approximately $204,000 from the most recent settlement with the remainder going to attorney’s fees. The settlement will be paid by the district’s insurance company, the Associated Press reported.
The rest of the funds will cover her attorney fees.
“Even though this information is coming out, not everyone is ever going to be told the truth,” Parsons said of the upheaval back in 2019. “Most people don’t care. They’ll just remember ‘That woman, that nutcase, who did she think she was?’”