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Hartford teacher suing school district over free speech rights rips CRT, says teaching profession ‘dwindling’

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A Connecticut teacher who sued the Hartford Public Schools district for allegedly violating his free speech told Fox News Digital that administrators are making teachers’ jobs more difficult due to “political” school policies.

“I think one of the things that’s changed, in my opinion, especially in Connecticut, is there’s an ongoing practice of putting individuals in charge of schools and school systems that have little to no experience of ever being in charge of the classroom,” John Grande, a 36-year-veteran physical education teacher in Hartford Public Schools, told Fox News Digital.

He continued, “I think that’s really been the downfall of public education.”

Grande, who is filing the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, claimed in the suit that he was targeted for punishment by the school district for refusing to “endorse their agenda to push critical race theory on teachers” after a mandatory “Identity and Privilege” training.


With the help of the Fairness Center, physical education teacher John Grande filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut against the school board and administrators. (Google Maps)

Grande also claimed that Hartford school officials “fabricated” evidence during a “witch hunt” investigation against him after he disagreed with the training. The Hartford Public Schools district implemented the training in 2020 titled “Identity and Privilege” via Zoom as mandatory professional development. 

“I was asked for my opinion, so, I gave it. And because it did not match with what the administrators were looking for, officials engaged in this witch hunt that led to a kangaroo court,” he said. “And, ultimately, I received a written reprimand placed in my personnel file for the first time in my lengthy career. And I was threatened further with termination in order to take a sensitivity training course.”

Furthermore, he noted that there was “silent dissent” among other teachers who participated in the training with him.

Grande said he has seen big changes to the teaching profession in the last 30 years, one being that administrators are bringing politics and ideology into schools. 

“These individuals–they create their policies based on theory in politics because they can’t relate to practice. I think it’s actually had a negative effect [on teaching],” he said.

The gym teacher explained further that teaching is a very noble profession, yet, it’s also a very “disrespected profession.”

“I think a lot of the teachers do not get the genuine credit that they deserve, and especially having to deal with a type of training like this … it could be one reason why it seems like the teaching profession is dwindling,” he said. “We need to go back to the old ways of giving the teachers the power of being creative because nobody knows their students better than the classroom teachers, and they need to be given that freedom to come up with their own style of teaching.”


A Connecticut teacher who sued the Hartford Public School (HPS) district for an alleged violation of his free speech told Fox News Digital that administrators are undermining teachers with “political” school policies. (Fox News Digital)

With the lawsuit, Grande said he hopes to hold accountable the HPS officials who conducted a “witch-hunt” investigation and “kangaroo court” against him when he criticized the “Identity & Privilege” training.

The “Identity & Privilege” training, he believes, was part of an effort to push critical race theory in the school system. According to the lawsuit, the Privilege Presentation provided “examples of privilege” and used language that would prompt Grande, a “straight, white, Christian male,” to mark “yes” in a section of his “identity wheel.”

“Based on those prompts, Mr. Grande believed that the Privilege Presentation targeted a certain class of people, including him, and was an exercise in critical race theory, rather than one aimed at improving the education of students,” the lawsuit stated.

“And if we can answer yes to each of the questions, then we were [said] to have privilege. And the way that the questions were phrased – they were gaslighting questions,” Grande told Fox News Digital.

The lawsuit claims the school district attributed language to him that he denies saying. The gym teacher faced accusations from fellow participants that he made statements about the training that were false as well as a survey response he alleges was altered to include language he had not attested to.

In October 2021, school board members conducted a pre-disciplinary hearing to discuss Grande’s statements. After deliberations in the hearing, the Board issued a disciplinary letter about Grande’s “inappropriate and unprofessional” conduct. They also forced him to undergo a “sensitivity training” as punishment for his conduct in the “Identity and Privilege” training. He was the only teacher in that training, he said.

Grande described the “sensitivity training” as a “re-programing training.” 


“Like you would see political dissidents having to go through in a Marxist and communist regime,” he said. “It was quite comical, but I did it.”

John Grande, worked at the Hartford Public Schools district for 36 years as a physical education teacher. (iStock)

When Fox News Digital reached out to HPS about the sensitivity training, a district spokesperson said that “those trainings are largely pre-recorded (vector series) and can be completed at the employee’s convenience, as was the case in this incident.”

“All district staff receive an employee handbook and are expected to hold themselves to standards of behavior clearly outlined in the document,” the district spokesperson said. “If an employee violates any provision of the handbook, they are subject to potential disciplinary measures and may be required to complete training to address those specific behaviors.”

Grande, who is represented by the Fairness Center, urged the court to rule that the HPS’ conduct was unconstitutional under the First Amendment and to rescind the disciplinary letter from his employee file. The physical education teacher also requested that the court “award him compensatory and punitive damages.”


The school district sent Fox News Digital a statement in response to Grande’s lawsuit.

“Hartford Public Schools remains committed to creating safe spaces and robust professional learning opportunities regardless of staff background, beliefs or ideology,” a spokesperson for the district said. “While we respect the right for all to seek representation, we disagree with the allegations included in said lawsuit. Due to the pending nature of the litigation, we will not issue further comment.”

While retirement is on the horizon for Grande, he expressed concern that public education is not going to survive because policies have become more “political” and the “decision-making powers have been taken away from classroom teachers.”