Lawsuit Opposes Suspension of West Virginia School Workers Who Attended Capitol Rally

Two West Virginia school district employees who attended the pro-Donald Trump protest before last week's Washington, D.C. riot are suing the superintendent who launched an investigation into their actions.

Jefferson County school bus drivers Pamela McDonald and Tina Renner filed the lawsuit against Superintendent of Schools Bondy Shay Gibson on Monday, claiming they were being wrongly associated with the insurrection attempt after traveling to D.C. to attend a peaceful rally.

In the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia in Martinsburg, the pair accuse Gibson of violating their First Amendment right to protest. They have been placed on paid leave while the school district investigates if the pair took part in any illegal activities.

McDonald and Renner are Trump supporters who drove to Frederick, Maryland, on January 6 to board a bus to the rally where the president was speaking. They arrived in D.C. at 10:30 a.m. and were told to return to the same spot at 3 p.m. in order to be driven back to Frederick.

The pair, along with others in their group, watched Trump's speech on large television screens near the Washington Monument.

Although the group did move closer to the Capitol in the afternoon, the lawsuit states: "They never crossed any barricades or into any prohibited areas, where they observed the large crowd and the rally taking place.

"They observed no violence nor destruction of property. The crowd was entirely peaceful from their point of view."

Civil rights attorney John Bryan, who filed the suit on the plaintiffs' behalf, wrote that McDonald and Renner had merely "experienced and participated in a peaceful protest and political rally" on January 6.

"They did not witness, nor did they participate in, the lawless actions which occurred that day closer to, and within, the Capitol building.

"They were among the thousands upon thousands of peaceful protesters and rally participants that day who exercised their First Amendment protected speech in support of President Trump."

In a letter to Jefferson County Schools staff, Gibson said she had received a report that two of its employees had posted "threatening and inflammatory posts on their Facebook pages" before attending the protest.

Gibson also wrote that the pair, who are not named in the letter, had violated the school's leave policy.

"As is our practice, affected employees are sent a standard letter notifying them there are allegations, they will continue to be paid," Gibson said.

These letters outlined the potential ramifications for the bus drivers should the accusations be proven, and said a meeting would take place so they could respond.

"This is the same due process we strive to follow in every circumstance especially with allegations concerning potential harm," Gibson said.

"I understand that in this hyper-political environment, the letters came across to some as a potential threat of punishment for political beliefs. That was neither true nor the intention.

"I want to be clear that EVERY employee has EVERY right to the politics and beliefs of their choice, so long as their behavior does not cause harm or is illegal. I am seeking to determine whether these employees violated any policy or laws.

"The matter is currently under investigation and disciplinary action has not been determined as many have suggested."

In a further statement to Newsweek, a spokesperson for the superintendent said: "Gibson respects the system of due process for all citizens in our county and trusts the integrity of the judiciary to uphold that process."

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Supporters of President Donald Trump flock to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for a rally on January 6. A lawsuit has been filed by two school bus drivers who were suspended after attending the rally. Samuel Corum/Getty