During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents throughout the country opposed school policies that we now know led to significant learning losses for children. Our client, Sandra Hernden, was one of these parents. Sadly, in fighting for the best interests of her child, Sandra became the target of an overzealous school board that retaliated against her for her speech. Now Sandra is fighting back.
Sandra is a police officer and the mother of a son with a learning disability. During the pandemic, her son was unable to get the attention he needed to thrive, and his GPA fell from 3.5 to 1.5. Sandra contacted the Chippewa Valley school board and began attending meetings, discussing her son’s struggles under the district’s remote learning policies. It soon became clear, however, that the school board did not appreciate Sandra’s opposition to its pandemic response.
After a heated email exchange, one school board member contacted Sandra’s boss and essentially accused her of conduct unbecoming a police officer. Sandra was investigated, and her employer found that she had not violated any work rules. But this was not the end of the school board’s retaliation.
The board began interrupting her when she spoke during the public comments portion of meetings. In response, Sandra emailed the board and cautioned members that they were likely violating her First Amendment rights. The board, interpreting Sandra’s email as a threat, forwarded it to the Department of Justice for a criminal investigation. The board president sent that email only one day after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo authorizing coordinated action against unspecified “threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”
It’s unclear whether the Justice Department conducted, or is currently conducting, an investigation into Sandra. What is clear is that Sandra was exposed to potential criminal liability after fighting for her son’s best interest.
No mother should be forced to choose between advocating for her children and her own freedom. With the help of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, Sandra is now suing the school board that retaliated against her for exercising her First Amendment rights. We are proud to stand with parents like Sandra Hernden, and to help her hold government accountable for violating an American’s constitutional rights.