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Former Dedham High football coach sues school officials for non-renewal of contract

Dedham High School’s former football coach has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the school’s principal, athletic director, and the superintendent of schools violated his First Amendment right to free speech when they didn’t reappoint him last month, court documents show.

David Flynn filed a suit in US District Court in Boston last week against Principal Jim Forrest, Athletic Director Steve Traister, and Superintendent Michael J. Welch, who Flynn says retaliated against him for expressing objections to material taught in his daughter’s seventh-grade world history class, including references to the Black Lives Matter movement, as a parent and private citizen.

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The three men signed a January letter to players and their families explaining that Flynn had not been reappointed after he “expressed significant philosophical differences with the direction, goals, and values of the school district.”

The letter from Welch, Forrest, and Traister said they “felt it best to seek different leadership for the program” after they met with Flynn to discuss the difference in views.

A school district spokeswoman, Sara Errickson, said Wednesday the district was aware of the suit but had no comment. The lawsuit’s filing was first reported by the Patriot Ledger.

Michael Bekesha, a senior attorney at Judicial Watch who is representing Flynn, said the conservative Washington, D.C.-based organization,took on the case because the non-renewal of his client’s contract is a clear violation of his rights.

“Just because you’re a public employee doesn’t mean you lose all of your First Amendment rights,” Bekesha said in a phone interview Wednesday evening. “The law is clear. The Supreme Court has said that public employees may speak on issues of public concern in their individual capacity, and they cannot be retaliated against because of that speech.”

Flynn is seeking “compensatory and punitive damages” as well as attorneys’ fees, but court documents do not include a dollar amount. Bekesha did not provide an amount but said Flynn lost more than $9,000 in income when his contract was not renewed.

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Flynn is a 1989 graduate of Dedham High, where he led the football team to an undefeated season and a Bay State League Championship in his senior year, according to court filings.

After becoming the school’s coach in 2011, he “rebuilt his hometown team by dedicating his life to his players,” helping to take the team from a 1-10 record the previous season to an overall 19-14 record since 2017, according to the filings.

Flynn and his wife first complained to their daughter’s teacher, then to the principal of Dedham Middle School, and finally to Welch after they became concerned that their daughter was being taught about “issues of race, gender, stereotypes, prejudices, discrimination, and politics” in her seventh-grade World Geography and Ancient History class, court records show.

In an Oct. 14 e-mail to Welch, according to the documents, the Flynns expressed concerns that the material was inappropriate for the grade level and that the school had changed the curriculum without notifying parents. They said their daughter’s teacher was not providing objective lessons about controversial topics and that she used a cartoon avatar online that wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.

The Flynns shared that e-mail with three members of the Dedham School Committee and later met with Welch to discuss their concerns, but they walked away unsatisfied, according to the filings.

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They followed the meeting with an e-mail to the same three School Committee members who accused Welch of being unwilling to compromise, court documents show.

“The Superintendent has had the opportunity to make sure the Dedham teachers conduct themselves as professionals and to teach the courses objectively and without biased opinions,” they wrote. “He chose not to.”

On Oct. 30, the Flynns withdrew their children from Dedham schools, filings show.

Before the Flynns raised their concerns with district officials, according to documents, David Flynn had received multiple indications that his coaching contract would be renewed — if there was a football season during the coronavirus pandemic.

When Flynn met with Welch, Forrest, and Traister on Jan. 20, though, Welch produced a copy of the Flynns’ first e-mail to School Committee members and asked if he had shared it with parents in town. Flynn said he had.

Flynn, Welch, Forrest, and Traister discussed the e-mail, and the school officials told Flynn “they ‘were going in a different direction’ with the football program,” according to court filings.

Flynn’s lawsuit claims the three officials had planned in advance not to renew his contract and says he was never provided any explanation other than his discussion with them last month. Flynn “has suffered loss of earning, emotional distress, loss of reputation, and harassment as a result of being fired and/or the nonrenewal of his contract,” the documents say.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.