Hanover teacher fired over TikTok controversy loses court appeal

A former Hanover teacher who claims her First Amendment rights were violated after she was fired from her job for posting controversial TikToks has lost her appeal in federal court.

Bourne School Committee member Kari MacRae was fired in 2021 after one month of teaching at Hanover High School. Despite efforts to remove MacRae at the time, she is still expected to serve on the Bourne School Committee until 2027.

MacRae’s TikTok comments about race and gender identity initially sparked concern in the Bourne community. Teachers in the town wanted her to resign from her position as a school committee member, a position she had won in an unopposed election just months before the controversy.

Hanover Public Schools, including Superintendent Matthew Ferron and HHS Principal Matthew Mattos, were made aware of the posts and determined they “would have a substantial adverse impact on student learning,” according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruling. The TikToks were posted before she got the teaching job.

What do TikToks say?

MacRae’s TikToks were posted to her @nanamacof4 account. They were memes, the ruling said, that ridiculed Dr. Rachel Levine, a transgender woman and U.S. assistant secretary of health and safety, commented on children’s gender identities and downplayed the role of racism in U.S. history.

“I take on this responsibility to make sure that students, at least in our city, are not taught critical race theory, that they’re not taught that this country was built on racism,” she said in a TikTok she posted about her election to the committee. “So they’re not taught that they can choose to be a girl or a boy.”

In these screenshots (from left to right): MacRae disparages Dr. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary of Health and Human Services; one post plays on the phrase “the birds and the bees” to comment on gender identity; and the last is a repost by another account of something MacRae shared, showing how a man could pretend to be a woman in order to succeed, thereby disparaging transgender people. – Screenshots courtesy of Alexandra Caldwell and Alexandra Stanton

What did the judge decide?

The federal judge ruled in favor of the district court and agreed that MacRae’s dismissal was valid because the potential disruption resulting from his posts outweighed his free speech interests.

“Bourne, a city less than an hour’s drive from Hanover, and its school system were embroiled in controversy over the same speech at issue here, and the evidence of disruption in Bourne was extraordinary,” the judge wrote. “Defendants were entirely reasonable in predicting that disruption would occur if they failed to act.”

MacRae’s attorney, Michael Bekesha, who works with the conservative Judicial Watch Foundation, said they plan to ask the Supreme Court to take up the case.

“Kari MacRae and Judicial Watch are disappointed by the First Circuit’s decision because the right of government employees to free speech must be upheld,” said Michael Bekesha.

Leonard Kesten, an attorney for Hanover Public Schools and the school’s superintendent, told Boston.com that they were “pleased that the appeals court recognized that the actions of the superintendent and the school district were always designed to protect students.”

MacRae is currently running for Senate. She did not respond to a request for comment.

In these screenshots (from left): MacRae disparages immigrants from Mexico who receive welfare benefits once in the United States; shares a joke about racism involving a panda; and a quote from Thomas Sowell about politicians who keep racism alive. – Screenshots courtesy of Alexandra Caldwell and Alexandra Stanton