Note: it is highly unusual for a journalist, at any level, to become part of the story. Unfortunately what follows is what happened to me. I will do everything that I can to avoid implicit bias.
The Clark County School District in Nevada recently reached a $150,000 settlement with Brett Gilman, a reading teacher at Garside Junior High School, following an investigation into intense social media exchanges with Katie Williams, a School Board candidate later elected. The lawsuit, initiated by Gilman in February and later moved to U.S. District Court in March, sheds light on the events that unfolded on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram in the summer and fall of 2020.
The exchanges between Gilman and Williams escalated to vitriolic insults, with Gilman admitting to writing things he's not proud of but asserting that it was protected speech without any threats. Describing their political differences, Gilman said, "We're naturally oil and vinegar." Williams, who faced past criticism over her social media posts, was elected to the School Board in November 2020 and sworn in January 2021.
In the lawsuit, Gilman alleged an impermissible suppression of his political speech after being placed on home assignment, with the district and its police department investigating his social media posts. Gilman expressed relief about the settlement, stating, "I'm glad to put the whole affair behind me."
The settlement, finalized on Sept. 20, 2023 for $150,000, doesn't admit responsibility or liability by the District, but Gilman suggested it might be a tactic. He commented, "I think it was a tactic to avoid having to go in front of the school board and start another crazy school board fight."
In a statement to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Williams clarified that Gilman's lawsuit was against the school district, not her personally. She raised concerns about public bullying and questioned Gilman's values as an educator. The lawsuit also highlighted an Instagram post by Williams, where she allegedly threatened to go after Gilman and "any other teacher who happens to hate (her) guts" and to enforce the school district’s anti-bullying policy after taking office.
The Instagram post played a significant role in the narrative, contributing to Gilman's home assignment from February to August 2021. Gilman expressed the emotional toll, stating, "Being investigated and placed on home assignment caused me a lot of humiliation, anxiety, and stress."
Gilman, planning to retire after the 2024-25 school year, expressed relief about the settlement. He mentioned potential future interactions with Williams on social media, considering his large follower base and content monetization. Gilman is contemplating blocking her on X, stating, "I'm contemplating blocking her but it's a deviation from my usual approach."
The settlement marked the conclusion of a tumultuous chapter, with the Instagram post adding a layer of complexity to the situation. The quotes from both sides provide insights into the dynamics of social media exchanges and the broader impact on the individuals involved.