Adult education: How a Duval County teacher fought the state and won, but carries the battle scars
Image via Amy Donofrio

Amy Donofrio
She looks back at the battle, and toward what's next.

Amy Donofrio was at one point the most celebrated classroom teacher in Duval County, recognized by everyone from President Barack Obama to former Mayor Lenny Curry for her EVAC Movement, which brought hope and identity to young Black men at a school which was, ironically enough, once named for a former Confederate General.

Then Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran changed the game and imperiled her career – or vocation.

A Black Lives Matter flag and her display of Robert E. Lee facemasks with the description of the rebel leader as a “gang member” became national news, with Corcoran bragging about having her “terminated” in a speech. And the Duval County School District was compliant, removing her from the classroom without due process.

Time has passed, and she has largely been vindicated.

The Florida Education Practices Commission reinstated her license this week, years after DCPS settled with her for $300,000 – a remarkable move by the DeSantis-picked board given that Corcoran’s successor, Manny Diaz Jr., wanted her de-licensed. 

Now that the drama is over, Donofrio is picking up the pieces after a years-long battle that she frames as all-consuming.

“It’s a total combination of emotions,” she told Florida Politics. 

“I feel so thankful, and like a sense of hope. Like, I think it’s important for the teachers and for the kids, but I also feel a sense of grief because it shows that everything DCPS alleged is what they removed me for, it was complete lies, which I always knew,” she added.

Her next move, meanwhile, is still being determined.

“I feel like I need a minute, you know, now that I’ve spent so much focus and time in fighting this case the last three years that, I just kind of need a minute for it to settle, to decide what I’m gonna do next,” Donofrio related. “I mean, teaching is my life. That is what I love to do more than anything.”

“So I’d like to teach again, and I’d like to teach again in Jacksonville. But just because I won on the facts doesn’t change the reputation damage and also, you know, the fear people have of state retaliation for being affiliated with me.”

Donofrio relates that she got a lot of support officially from statewide teachers’ unions and behind the scenes from people you’ve heard of and people more obscure, but what’s clear is that the scars of her battle aren’t fully cauterized.

And despite the disillusionment with DCPS, she still believes in public schools. She notes that someone offered to fund a charter school with her leading it, but that she ultimately decided that wasn’t the way forward. As well, back in 2022, she had been encouraged to run for school board, but said she was too “traumatized” to proceed.

She has major, existential questions about the district that once employed her, and what she sees as a callous disregard for Black students. But she says she doesn’t think she could make a difference as one voice on a board.

“I’m not a fan of performative stuff. I’m a fan of stuff that’s has action and impact. And to me running for School Board would only make sense if there’s other people on the board that are also willing to stand up for students too.”

She is not a fan of the unanimous vote for Dr. Christopher Bernier, the new Superintendent who will make $320,000 a year in his position, and believes that the board ignored a whistleblower’s complaint against him.

And while she’s sympathetic to pressures the board faces amid declining enrollment and a seeming push toward consolidation of schools as students leave for public charters, she can’t help but draw a line between policy and attrition.

“When you break community trust again and again and again, you’re losing the one resource you had to keep yourself alive,” she notes. “They should stand with kids, they should stand against racism, they should stand with black parents who make up the majority of parents in DCPS. All parents, but specifically black parents they should stand with, because it’s the right thing.”

“But also because again, the community is what they have and that’s the thing that’s like really heartbreaking to me is and I’ve had to back away from reading local news because it’s just too painful for me to see this trajectory happening,” Donofrio contends. “I’ve seen that even the staunchest advocates for Duval County public schools or public schools in general kind of have gotten eroded away in the last few months because there’s just a breaking point.There’s a tipping point, right? You can only give the benefit of the doubt so much.”

“I’m throwing up my hands at this point and, and honestly, I am genuinely praying for them to get it together because the best thing for our kids in Jacksonville is to have thriving public schools, but we don’t have a lot of time left to keep messing up like this.”

Additionally, Donofrio suggests that media coverage of school issues is itself problematic and racially biased, privileging “suburban districts with a predominately white population” over urban districts with a black plurality.

“If news would cover like the reality of the situation on the ground, like people who are actually impacted by it, it kind of changes it from a divisive issue to a common sense, humane issue that most rational people can understand,” she argued. “It’s so frustrating because it just that it hasn’t happened like that in the media. And that’s part of why some of these policies I think have been able to live on because it divides us, right?”

“Instead of seeing the common sense of the issue, like if you’re in a classroom with predominantly black students who are expressing that they feel like they’re being treated like they don’t matter, the humane compassionate human response is simply to affirm.”

The last few years have been a trial by fire for Amy Donofrio, with administrative hearings targeting her and some of the most powerful people in the state deleveraging her along the way.

Finally, now, the worst is over.

The next few years and decades will no doubt be devoted to taking those hard-won insights and redoubling them into her unique, mission-driven educational path. 


A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


  • Brava!

    June 15, 2024 at 1:40 pm

    Teachers like Donofrio should be treasured, not disparaged. She has guts.

  • Floridumber

    June 15, 2024 at 2:00 pm

    Duval County taxpayers have no choice in who they are forced to endure as a non-elected superintendent (or how much they are paid) and it’s time for the office to be an elected position and held accountable to professional and ethical standards. Enough is enough. There will be a lot to answer for.
    DCPS does not deserve the benefit of the doubt anymore, by anyone. The district is its own worst enemy. The state has made it clear the mission is to destroy public education for private profit. The die is cast.
    I hope Donofrio goes back to teaching and also runs for council. What a waste.

    • MH/Duuuval

      June 15, 2024 at 8:31 pm

      You might want to re-think an elected school board super. Do you really want a MAGA- elected super?

    • the Truth

      June 15, 2024 at 10:33 pm

      Donthugo is a waste of a human

  • My Take

    June 15, 2024 at 2:40 pm

    DeScumtis and his stooges play to a redneck base.

    • Frankie M.

      June 15, 2024 at 6:34 pm

      Maybe Donofrio can take her talents to the private school system like Bishop Kenny with their big minority enrollment.

  • Michael K

    June 15, 2024 at 6:01 pm

    Cruelty is often the point with these authoritarian thugs. I applaud Ms Donofrio for her conviction and courage in the face of a public education system hijacked by people trying to destroy it from within.

  • the Truth

    June 17, 2024 at 10:07 pm

    I assume White Lives Don t Matter to Donothugo

  • the Truth

    June 18, 2024 at 9:20 am

    and what about Hispanic Lives or Asian Lives do they matter, Donothug

  • MH/Duuuval

    June 19, 2024 at 5:34 pm

    The so-called Truth reminds us regularly of how many white folks blame people of color for their own sorry state — instead of recognizing how rich white guys make and enforce the rules.

    • the Truth

      June 21, 2024 at 8:06 am

      hey mh/duuuval., let me ask you, do white lives, hispanic lives and asian lives matter or do only black lives matter??????

Comments are closed.


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