Teacher’s aide sues former employer after being fired for discussing ‘occult’ items with student

A Chesterton teacher’s aide has sued his former employer with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana after being fired for speaking with a student about “occult” items after school hours.

The ACLU of Indiana filed the complaint on June 24 against Porter County Education Services on behalf of Daniel Carter, who was on school property after school had ended when he had a “brief” conversation with a student about artwork on a deck of tarot cards.

Carter, a special education aide at Chesterton Middle School in the Duneland School Corp., worked for PCES from 2012 to 2015 and again from 2017 to 2021. Prior to being fired, Carter volunteered to assist with two after-school clubs.

During a meeting of one of the clubs, known as the Acceptance Club, Carter interacted with a student after seeing her looking through a deck of tarot cards. The two talked about the artwork on the cards, which the complaint says they had a general interest in. Neither were reading the tarot cards, nor does Carter know anything about them other than the artwork, the complaint states.

“The student was not a special education student, but as a faculty assistant to the club, Mr. Carter thought it appropriate to talk to the student, particularly as the purpose of the club was to foster acceptance,” the complaint reads.

The following week, Carter brought a tarot deck belonging to his wife to the school to show the same student once the school day had ended. The suit alleges they talked briefly regarding the “striking artwork” involved.

Four days later, Carter was notified he had been fired for discussing “topics in no way related to (his) duties” with a student “outside (his) workday.”

Filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Daniel J. Carter v. Porter County Educational Services; Lisa Flynn, in her official and individual capacities, 2:21-cv-200, alleges PCES violated Carter’s First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing him freedom of speech.

Carter contends that his conversation with the student was regarding the tarot card artwork only and that discussions of art are matters of general concern. He claimed other school employees frequently have “casual and polite conversations with students outside of school hours that may not pertain to school activities.”

The complaint further asserts that volunteer work with the school clubs involved activities beyond his employment duties and talking to students outside of school hours.

“There was nothing improper or inappropriate with Mr. Carter sharing the artwork with the student who had expressed an interest in viewing it and the defendants had no justifications or reasons to discharge Mr. Carter for showing the cards and discussing their artwork with the student,” the complaint states.

The Duneland School Corp. declined to comment on the lawsuit. Indiana Lawyer has also reached out to a spokesperson for PCES and defendant Lisa Flynn, PCES’ district director for the Duneland School Corp., for comment.

The lawsuit seeks declaratory judgment that Carter’s constitutional rights were violated and asks the district court to order Carter’s immediate reinstatement, in addition to back pay and legal fees.

“School administrators shouldn’t need to be reminded that teachers have a right to speak to their students,” Kenneth J. Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, said in a statement. “As the Supreme Court has ruled, students don’t surrender constitutional rights to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate — and neither do teachers.”

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