Macomb County mother sues Chippewa Valley school board over free speech

‘I have every right to air my grievances and ask for help from the school board, especially when it comes to my child’

A Macomb County mother is suing the Chippewa Valley School Board after members of the board emailed the department of justice and her employer complaining about her behavior at school board meetings. At the height of the pandemic, school board meetings across the state became heated and sometimes ugly. Parents dissatisfied with no in-person learning and or angry about mask policies. Sandra Hernden was one of them.

CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. – A Macomb County mother is suing the Chippewa Valley School Board after members of the board emailed the department of justice and her employer complaining about her behavior at school board meetings.

At the height of the pandemic, school board meetings across the state became heated and sometimes ugly. Parents dissatisfied with no in-person learning and or angry about mask policies.

Sandra Hernden was one of them.

“I have every right to air my grievances and ask for help from the school board, especially when it comes to my child,” said Hernden.

She became a regular at Chippewa Valley School Board meetings and was blunt and perceived as hostile in her comments to the board. Two board members, the secretary, and the president, emailed her employer and the Department of Justice to complain about her.

Hernden was employed as a police officer in Harper Woods when Board Secretary Elizabeth Pyden sent the chief of police an email claiming Hernden was angry, disrespectful, and engaging in veiled racism.

That email launched an internal investigation against her which found no violation of department policies. Stephen Delie, an attorney with the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, is suing the board and two individual members in federal court, claiming a violation of Hernden’s First Amendment rights.

The emails are front and center in the litigation.

“They’re both egregious,” said Delie. “It’s just in different ways. Both of those, in my opinion, are designed to stop Sandra from speaking and chill her First Amendment rights.”

The second email was from School Board President Frank Bednard to the Department of Justice, claiming Hernden and parents like her were engaging in threatening and harassing behavior.

Delie says there were no threats. There was, however, heaps of criticism aimed at the school board. Criticism does not equal threats. The DOJ never approached Hernden about the email.

Tim Mullins, the attorney for the Chippewa Valley Schools, told Local 4 he hadn’t had an opportunity to thoroughly review the lawsuit but said two emails by board members did not constitute any sort of action against Hernden by the board.

Hernden, for her part, isn’t looking for money from the school district; She wants an apology.


About the Authors:

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.