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Appeals court rules in favor of teacher who wore MAGA hat to racial bias trainings

A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a Washington state teacher who wore a MAGA hat to his district’s pre-school year “racial bias and cultural sensitivity” trainings.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel said former Wy’east Middle School Principal Caroline Garrett had violated science teacher Eric Dodge’s constitutional rights in 2019 when she told him “Next time I see you with that hat, you need to have your union rep,” Education Week reports.

Dodge, who worked for the Evergreen School District for over 17 years, had been assigned to Wy’east Middle for the 2019-20 school year, according to the court opinion.

The genesis of the imbroglio was Dodge “displaying” the hat “on top of his backpack” at the trainings. He never actually wore the hat during the sessions. The leader of one workshop, a professor from Washington State University, told Principal Garrett she felt “intimidated and traumatized” by the hat.

A teacher reportedly broke into tears while another felt “threatened.”

Garrett (pictured) allegedly asked Dodge “What is the fucking deal with your hat?” and informed him some felt the hat represented “hate and bigotry.”  She also called Dodge “a racist, a bigot, a homophobe, and a liar” according to a report from KATU.

MORE: Student defends wearing MAGA hat after professor cries ‘white supremacy’

Garrett and other school district officials prevailed in district court after Dodge sued, but a unanimous Ninth Circuit panel “revived” the teacher’s case against the principal. It ruled that Dodge’s hat did not disrupt the educational process and that “political speech is the quintessential example of protected speech, and it is inherently controversial.”

“Principal Garrett went beyond criticizing Dodge’s political views […] it is hardly controversial that threatening a subordinate’s employment if they do not stop engaging in protected speech is reasonably likely to deter that person from speaking,” the court said.

It added: “Where Dodge was not taking advantage of his position to press his particular views upon the impressionable and captive minds before him, but rather was displaying a message on a personal item while attending a teacher-only training, we have little trouble concluding that he was engaging in expression as a private citizen, not a public employee.”

Garrett resigned from her Wy’east Middle position at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

MORE: California school bans student’s MAGA hat, claims creates ‘unsafe’ environment

IMAGES: Fadziel Nor/Shutterstock.com; WyeastMS@WyeastWarrior/Twitter screencap

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.