JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Duval County teacher is demanding a
letter of apology and $300,000 from the local school board over what
he believes are attempts at censorship of free speech.
According to a report
on Jacksonville.com, teacher Chris Guerrieri wrote a blog that was
consistently critical of the school board. In September 2016, he was
sent a cease-and-desist letter from the city’s general council on
behalf of the school board — specifically one of its members,
Cheryl Grymes, whom Guerrieri had accused of acting based on
conflicts of interest. The letter threatened legal action if
Guerrieri did not stop.
Following the incident, the some members of the board have stated
that the letter was out of line and have openly discussed retracting
it. However, interim interactions have made reconciliation more
difficult. Guerrieri has had multiple arguments online with board
member Scott Shine. These entanglements have only served to make the
situation worse, and Guerrieri’s lawyer, Ryan J. Andrews, is
including defamation from Shine as part of the cause for potential
“It can be difficult to predict the outcome of some of these
cases … these cases are often very dependent on background. Such
as, does the plaintiff seem credible? Does he have a history of
overreacting?” Erika Proctor, a lawyer with experience in suits
based around free speech, told the Florida Record about the
feasibility of Guerrieri’s action.
Guerrieri has already been threatened with punitive blowback for
his online criticism. The school board has not acted, but has
informed Guerrieri he would be suspended without pay for a week if he
continued his behavior.
“The school board absolutely acted too quickly, I can say
that … the issue is free speech, and they tried to stop Guerrieri,”
Proctor said. “Juries have been known to sometimes be very strongly
for free speech, sometimes too much maybe. If that is going to be
enough to earn a legal punishment, I don’t know.”
Guerrieri’s claim was further fueled when Andrews alleged that
the board had discussed what he called an “anti-Guerrieri rule”
to limit criticism in the future, according to the Jacksonville.com
Andrews stated that this was a further act of defamation of his
client and continued negligence of the First Amendment rights of the
district’s teachers. The school board has not commented on this
Public records revealed that Guerrieri was arrested for driving
under the influence, and received reprimands for comments considered
profane and inappropriate on a news site.
Proctor reiterated that Guerrieri's character would really
determine the case.
“A jury will determine the validity of his claims based on how
he seems … drunk driving can really hurt someone in his spot,”
she said. “It makes you think maybe he is overreacting … is his
character the kind of person who would overreact to some light
The school board has until Feb. 10 to give Guerrieri his apology
and money or be sued, according to Jacksonville.com.