Teacher who said she was forced to edit student’s Trump shirt for yearbook lands huge settlement

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A retired New Jersey high school teacher who claimed she’d been forced to edit former President Donald Trump’s name and MAGA slogan out of a yearbook photo four years ago just won a $325,000 settlement from her school district.

Back in the summer of 2017, then-recent Wall Township High School graduate Grant Berardo noticed that his yearbook photo had been modified so that his shirt no longer contained the words “Trump: Make America Great Again.”

This discovery led to a big controversy and the even more disturbing discovery that yearbook adviser Susan Parsons had purposefully censored the shirt. The latter discovery in turn led to her name going viral and her life being turned upside down.

“My life has not been the same, and I don’t think it ever will,” Parsons said this week to NJ.com.

Parsons first began speaking out about her ordeal in 2019 when she sat for an interview about the incident.

“Susan Parsons told NJ Advance Media she was shocked Wall Township School District administrators blamed her for making an edit she says was demanded by the school secretary, a proxy for the principal,” NJ.com reported at the time.

“Now, Parsons, a veteran digital media teacher, wants school officials punished for the lie fed to the media and community, she said.”

And so she filed suits at the time, and now two years later, the suits have finally been settled in her favor.

“Parsons will receive about $204,000, and the remainder of the settlement will cover attorneys fees, according to the agreement,” according to NJ.com’s latest report.

“She previously received a $25,000 settlement from a lawsuit challenging a district media policy that she said forbid her from telling her side of the story without obtaining permission from the district. The school system made no admission or wrongdoing in that settlement, which was approved in 2019.”

The Wall Board of Education reportedly also refused to make an admission of wrongdoing in the latest settlement, though Parsons still firmly maintains that she’d been wronged.

“Parsons said the district routinely forced her to edit yearbook photos to alter anything that could be controversial. Her lawsuit says she was specifically told to edit a junior student’s ‘TRUMP Make America Great Again’ shirt in the 2017 edition, the year Trump took office,” NJ.com noted.

That year, then-school secretary Cindy McChesney told her “that has to go” in regard to the words on Berardo’s shirt, and so Parsons complied even though she personally disagreed with the order.

“Following McChesney’s order, Parsons went back to her classroom and reluctantly made the change, she said. Even after the student’s father started giving news interviews about the yearbook, Parsons didn’t realize how much trouble she would be in, she said,” according to NJ.com’s 2019 report.

Nor did she realize that the school would railroad her by suspending her for simply following orders. And thus what began as her just doing her job turned into a nationwide controversy involving union reps and, sadly, death threats as well.

“The fallout made Parsons akin to ‘some scourge,’ she said. She was flooded with hate mail and voice messages, her personal swimming lesson business received negative online reviews after the controversy and she no longer felt safe leaving her quiet street to run errands in the community,” NJ.com noted.

The worst part of the whole experience, she said in 2019, was the fact that she’d been tarnished for life.

“Even though this information is coming out, not everyone is ever going to be told the truth. Most people don’t care. They’ll just remember ‘that woman, that nutcase, who did she think she was?'” she said.

The good news is that, with a settlement now in hand, she at least has some semblance of proof that she’d been telling the truth the whole time.

As for Berardo, his father wound up donating $5,279 back in 2017 to pay for a reprint of his son’s censored yearbook, sans the censorship.

Lors Photography, which took the photos for Wall Township High School, donated $3,000, and the yearbook’s publisher, Jostens, issued a credit for the remaining costs.

When asked at the time why he’d paid for the reprint, Joseph Berardo told the Asbury Park Press it was “the right thing” to do.

“Supporting the kids of Wall Township seemed like the right thing to do. I didn’t want there to be some other program that didn’t get funded because of this,” he added.

It’s not clear if the Berardos are aware of what Parsons has been through and if they were involved at all with her attempt to obtain justice for herself.

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Vivek Saxena

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