A suburban Philadelphia schoolteacher whose complaints about students and colleagues
in a personal blog gained her international media attention last year has filed suit against her school district, claiming supervisors are planning to fire her in retaliation for airing complaints about free speech harassment.
Natalie Munroe, who resides in Warminster, Bucks County, and teaches high school English for the Central Bucks School District, claims in her civil filing that she received word that the district planed to terminate her employment during the June 26 meeting of the Central Bucks Board of School Directors.
Munroe’s lawsuit, filed at the federal court in Philadelphia on June 21 by Jenkintown, Pa. attorney Stanley B. Cheiken and Feasterville, Pa. attorney Steven L. Rovner, claims that she received what she contends was a “retaliatory” third unsatisfactory performance evaluation on June 1, which would pave the way for her termination.
Munroe, who was hired in 2006 to teach English at the Central Bucks East High School, received tenure in 2010.
She initially received “excellent feedback and performance evaluations,” the lawsuit states.
But that all changed in early 2011 when school district administrators came across a personal blog Munroe created titled “Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?”
The blog was written anonymously under “Natalie M.,” and only “followers” invited to read its contents could do so, the suit states.
Nevertheless, Munroe’s principal, identified as Abram Lucabaugh, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, questioned Munroe about the blog in February 2011.
Lucabaugh was particularly concerned about entries in which Munroe made comments about her students’ unwillingness to work hard and cooperate in school, lack of student accountability and the lack of support for teachers shown by school administrators and parents, the lawsuit states.
Munroe admitted to having authored the blog, and in retaliation for what the lawsuit claims was the plaintiff engaging in protected free speech activity, Munroe was immediately suspended from her job.
In the coming weeks, Munroe’s tale was told in newspapers and on television news programs across the nation, and world.
Lucabaugh and the third defendant named in the lawsuit, Schools Superintendent N. Robert Laws, were quoted in the press saying Munroe would likely be fired for having made “egregious” statements about students in her blog, according to the complaint.
Students and school officials, however, were never singled out by name in the blog entries.
Munroe went on to defend herself in her blog and in the mass media.
“In each appearance and interview, Munroe defended her blog entries, refused to apologize for the comments made on her blog, and attempted to focus attention on the education debate, pointing out that school administrators and government officials often fail to support teachers, choosing instead to placate unreasonable parents and unmotivated students, and thereby undermining the educational system,” the lawsuit states.
“At all times, Munroe’s activities in continuing to blog, as well as in speaking to the media, were undertaken as a private citizen. Accordingly, these activities were protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
After the case garnered widespread media attention, Munroe began experiencing retaliatory acts on the part of school district officials, the suit claims.
This included receiving unsatisfactory performance evaluations and being refused a request to transfer to another school in the district.
In the summer of 2011, the defendants informed school district residents that they would honor all requests of students to “opt out” of Munroe’s classes in the coming school year, the suit states.
In September 2011, the defendants placed Munroe on a performance “improvement plan” allegedly necessitated by the retaliatory and false unsatisfactory performance evaluations, the lawsuit states, and beginning in October 2011, the defendants began conducting unannounced observations of Munroe’s classroom.
An additional pattern of harassment began to unfold, the complaint alleges, which included Munroe being singled out for briefly leaving her classroom to use the bathroom while her students were “quietly reading,” and requiring the woman to attend lengthy meetings during which she was subjected to “retaliatory, negative evaluations.”
The alleged harassment culminated with the threat of termination leveled this month, the suit states.
The lawsuit contains counts of civil rights violations.
Munroe seeks a court order reinstating her employment should she be terminated. If fired, she also looks to recoup back pay, front pay, unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and other costs.
The federal case number is 2:12-cv-03546-CMR.