Teacher forced to resign over video criticizing COVID mask rules, SC lawsuit says

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A South Carolina teacher said she was forced to resign after posting a Facebook video that criticized face mask mandates.

After losing her job with Berkeley County schools, Holly Chapman said officials gave a reference that prevented her from being hired elsewhere, according to a lawsuit filed against the district and its former superintendent on Tuesday, Nov. 30.

When reached for comment on Dec. 2, a spokesperson said the Berkeley County School District doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Chapman said she had been working for the Charleston-area district for more than five years before she made a social media post in December 2020. On her personal Facebook page, she shared a video “in which she expressed her political frustrations with perceived government intrusion with respect to COVID mask mandates and protocols,” according to the lawsuit.

The video also included a “sexual innuendo in her speech as an analogy to government overreach, but the innuendo was not objectively explicit or obscene,” Chapman said in her court document. Around the same time, she said her colleagues “also engaged in posting sexual innuendo and speech of a sexual nature on social media” but hadn’t been punished.

During the coronavirus pandemic, health officials have been urging people to wear face coverings, avoid crowded places and take other measures to help stop the spread of the virus.

When Chapman posted her video about COVID-19, she said none of her students were her friends on her Facebook profile, which was “under a pseudonym and not her ‘teacher name.’” But by January 2021, a child attending her school reportedly found the video and posted a clip on the Snapchat app.

Though Chapman was forced to resign in February 2021, her former principal agreed to be a reference, according to the lawsuit. Until she posted the video, she said she was an award-winning teacher and had “received no disciplinary actions” at the district.

Chapman said the former Berkeley County Schools superintendent told her a complaint would be filed against her, but the S.C. State Board of Education later didn’t move forward “because her speech outside of work on a matter of public concern was protected by the First Amendment.” She accuses the district of labeling “her as committing conduct that was grossly immoral, because of her protected speech as a citizen on a matter of public concern.”

Chapman also later applied for a job with another school system but lost the opportunity after Berkeley County officials told the district that she had resigned “in lieu of termination due to social media postings related to masks,” according to the lawsuit.

She is seeking $187,000 and other costs related to losing her job.

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