Sandra Hernden says her son, Connor, was thriving in Chippewa Valley School District near Detroit before COVID hit.
"Pre-pandemic, he was actually doing very well," she shares. "He is special needs under an IEP (Individualized Education Program). He had a 3.5 grade point average; he was very involved in athletics. Then the pandemic hit. That's when everything really did change."
Learning remotely drove his GPA down to 1.5, so Hernden took her argument for the return of in-person learning – and later against mask mandates – to the school board.
A local news outlet describes her regular presence at the Chippewa Valley School Board meetings as "blunt and perceived as hostile." She, however, describes her exchanges with board members as "passionate" – not threatening. Criticism, she points out, does not equal threats.
Still, board Secretary Elizabeth Pyden sent an email to her employer, the local police department, accusing her of "veiled racism." But given her service there as an officer with distinction, the board was not satisfied when the department's internal investigation found no violation of department policies.
School board President Frank Bednard then sent an email to the Department of Justice, which has recently warned about "domestic terrorist" parents speaking up at school board meetings. The email accused Hernden and parents like her of engaging in threatening and harassing behavior.
So, she sought legal representation.
"When the power of government is used to shut down one side of that conversation, we all lose out," says attorney Steve Delie of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has filed a lawsuit. "That's why we're suing, is to provide a check against that kind of behavior."
They Mackinac Center is suing for a dollar – and an apology – so as to send a message to other school boards that they cannot threaten parents for trying to help their kids.
"You can't silence parents when they know what's best for their children, when they want what's best for their children," Hernden submits. "You can't retaliate against them because you don't want to hear what they have to say. You can't report them to the federal government because they have their opinion and they're advocating for their child."
A parent's voice, she says cannot be taken away.
Meanwhile, the school's attorney says individual school board members sending emails does not necessarily equate to official school board action.