Ex-Union teacher settles for suspension over Facebook posts

UNION, NJ — A former local high school teacher who posted comments critical of homosexual people to her personal Facebook account in 2011 reached a $132,500 settlement in June with the school district, records show.

Jenye Knox in 2013 filed a civil suit in federal court after she was suspended without pay and later resigned from her position as a special education teacher. She alleged school officials had violated her freedom of speech and religious rights because of Facebook comments she made in which she called homosexuality a “perverted spirit.”

The Star-Ledger reported that Knox had condemned a school display promoting tolerance during LGBT History Month, posting, “It’s still there. I’m a pitching a fit.”

“Why parade your unnatural immoral behaviors before the rest of us?” Knox’s post reportedly said. “I do not have to tolerate anything others wish to do. I do have to love and speak and do what’s right!”

The lawsuit named as defendants the school board at that time, the former superintendent, the former school board secretary and the former high school principal. By settling, no parties admit to any wrongdoing.

In response to inquiries, Knox or her lawyer are to state “the matter has been resolved” and nothing more, the settlement agreement reads.

The lawsuit alleged Knox was removed from her classroom in front of students and other teachers so school officials could speak to her about her social media posts, which were made while she was not at work. Knox claimed she was “pressured” to say her religious beliefs were wrong and “felt extremely intimidated,” the lawsuit said.

Knox was an ordained minister and faculty adviser of an after school Bible Study Club, the lawsuit said. Knox’s suit also claimed the school board had criticized her religious beliefs during a public meeting in 2011.

The school district filed tenure charges against Knox. In its complaint, the district alleged Knox had emailed school officials accusing gay and lesbian teachers of “targeting” students for “indoctrination” into “alternative sexual lifestyles,” NJ Advance Media reported.

Knox appealed to the state Office of Administrative Law. The state Board of Examiners agreed to suspend Knox’s elementary, nursery and special education certificates for three years, according to the agency’s decision in December.

The settlement agreement states that Knox will receive $63,833 for emotional distress and $24,500 for back wages. The law firm that represented her will receive $44,166 for attorneys’ fees, the agreement says.