Former Denfeld Principal Blasts Dist., Top Leaders In Federal Lawsuit

Tonya Sconiers Claims Retaliation, Violation Of First Amendment Rights For Criticizing Dist. Policies, Practices

DULUTH, Minn. – Former Duluth Denfeld High School principal Tonya Sconiers — who the school board voted to fire back in July — has filed a federal lawsuit against ISD 709, Superintendent Bill Gronseth and Asst. Superintendent Jeffrey Horton.

The lawsuit claims Sconiers was retaliated and discriminated against for speaking out against district leadership about policies and practices violating her first amendment rights.

Sconiers spoke out for the first time Monday about her firing, as FOX 21’s Dan Hanger reports.

“It saddens me that the district attempted to silence me by threatening me, then suspending me and now firing me,” Sconiers told the media in a press conference.

Sconiers, who spent 19 years with the Duluth School District, read a prepared statement with her attorneys and husband by her side – talking about her federal lawsuit against the district and its top leadership.

“As principal, I have been entrusted by the parents and our community to ensure that decision-making, financing and hiring, which impact our students, are always made in their best interest,” Sconiers said.

Sconiers is blasting the district, Gronseth and Horton, claiming retaliation against her for speaking out about her beliefs when it comes to educational equity, the opportunity gap, achievement gap and most recently the questionable hiring of Horton who is on probation with three DWI offenses Gronseth and-then Board Chair David Kirby knew about at the time but never told the school board or hiring committee.

“Difficult challenges mean difficult decisions and courageous leadership. Consequently, courageous leaders must stand up to the injustices of the status quo in policies and practices,” Sconiers said.

Ben Kwan, one of Sconier’s attorneys, claims the district created whatever they could in her personnel file, including giving her two unpaid suspensions to try to push Sconiers out.

The suit claims not only retaliation, but also discrimination based on sex and race.

“The district treated principal Sconiers differently as a black woman — going so far as to criticize things like the volume and the tone of her voice,” Kwan said.

Sconiers has denied her right to fight the termination through arbitration and is instead seeking monetary compensation through a jury trial.

“I will not be silenced. I am resolute in pursuing what is right. And my commitment to students, staff and this community is unwavering. Thank you,” Sconiers said while ending her prepared statement.

The Duluth School District responded with a statement through its attorney Monday at Rupp, Anderson, Squires and Waldspurger, P.A.:

“The District has not yet had an opportunity to review the complaint in detail and therefore cannot comment on any specific allegations.  Based on the representations Ms. Sconiers and her counsel have made to the media, the District vehemently denies the allegations that it or any of its administrators engaged in discrimination or violated Ms. Sconiers’ free speech rights.  The District’s disciplinary decisions related to Ms. Sconiers, including her discharge, were based solely on Ms. Sconiers’ inappropriate conduct.”

Click here to read the full complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota.

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