Glen Cove Elementary School files lawsuit against allegations

A Roanoke County man who last year accused staff at Glen Cove Elementary School of “conditioning, grooming and abusing children” – prompting the school board to ban rainbow symbols in classrooms – is now the target of a civil defamation lawsuit sought by 20 millions of dollars.

Damon Gettier, a real estate broker and parent in Glen Cove, was a central figure in the outcry over LGBTQ+ issues that engulfed Roanoke County schools last year. After criticizing Facebook posts about displaying rainbows at school, Gettier came to the May 18, 2023 school board meeting and said teachers and staff were sexual predators.

North County parent Damon Gettier addresses the Roanoke County School Board on May 18, 2023, when he called Glen Cove Elementary School teachers and staff “sex predators.”


“I am here to talk about the abuse, grooming, conditioning and indoctrination of children by sexual predators posing as teachers and staff at Glen Cove Elementary School,” Gettier said at the meeting.

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Gettier did not respond Wednesday to a message seeking comment on the lawsuit.

At last year’s school board meeting, Gettier told board members that he overheard his son talking to another Glen Cove student about how the teacher told them that “a boy can be a girl and a girl can be a boy and they can make the decision.”

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Gettier said he was “disgusted” by this and discovered that the school’s music room was decorated with student drawings of Pride flags and that he was met with school staff wearing what he called LGBTQ+ clothing, glasses and pens. Gettier said teachers with “woke, progressive ideologies” cover topics he considers inappropriate given the age of the students.

It should be up to parents, not educators, to discuss issues such as sexuality or transgender identity with children, Gettier said.

The guidance counselor, school psychologist, vice principal and music teacher “intended to indoctrinate our children in LGBTQA, not reading, writing and arithmetic,” Gettier said.

“… We have a staff of over five people and a teaching staff dedicated to conditioning, raising and using children,” Gettier said. “… I won’t tolerate it, it won’t happen and I will go as far as I have to to stop it from happening.”

Three other parents spoke out at the May 18, 2023 meeting and accused Glen Cove staff of covering LGBTQ+ topics that they believed were inappropriate for elementary-age students. One of the other speakers used the word predators, but it was Gettier who accused specific employees, identifying them by the positions held only by specific people.

On Saturday, Gettier received a lawsuit filed by one of the employees, now former assistant principal Tobi McPhail.

In the lawsuit, McPhail said Gettier’s accusations were false, malicious and made in reckless disregard of the truth. She said Gettier’s comments on Facebook and at the school board meeting caused her emotional distress and harmed her reputation and career.

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys John Fishwick and Daniel Martin of Roanoke, included two allegations. The first asked for Gettier to be held liable for defamation, the second for using offensive words. The latter is covered by a section of Virginia law that outlines possible civil liability for the use of words that are commonly “interpreted as slurs and that have a tendency to violence and disturbance of the peace.”

On each of the two counts, McPhail sought $5 million in compensatory damages and another $5 million in punitive damages.

McPhail’s lawsuit was filed in Roanoke County Circuit Court last month, but according to court records, process servers were unable to personally deliver it to Gettier and posted it on his door last weekend. No attorney was listed as representing Gettier.

On Wednesday, in response to a request for comment, Fishwick and Martin released a statement describing McPhail as a “longtime educator and administrator who has worked tirelessly throughout her career to provide all children with a high-quality education in a safe learning environment.”

“We have the utmost respect for her and look forward to further progress in her case,” the statement said.

Fishwick declined to comment further.

Gettier’s remarks last year came amid a growing outcry over LGBTQ+ issues in district schools. Gettier’s words, met with silence by school board members and thunderous applause from the audience, quickly sparked an outpouring of support for the criticized school staff from people who argued that teachers had been unfairly attacked.

However, the school board soon approved a classroom display policy banning rainbow flags and any other displays not directly related to the curriculum.

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The school board then became one of the first in Virginia to adopt Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s model policy for transgender students, seen by critics as discriminatory.

Protests and counter-protests began outside board meetings, while the public comment sections of the meetings were packed with speakers – some calling on the board to relax, and others arguing that Christian beliefs should lead the board to ban anything related to non-traditional gender roles or sexual orientation.

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Three people were arrested at board meetings in July and August for expressing opposition to board policy.

Another legal dispute stemming from last year’s turmoil reached a procedural stage this week when Roanoke County Pastor Tom McCracken’s lawyer filed a second amended version of the lawsuit against Roanoke City Councilman Luke Priddy and Roanoke County parent Tiffany Sandifer.

McCracken’s lawsuit is also a defamation case, although it also alleges two types of conspiracy. He accuses Sandifer and Priddy, critics of the school board’s pro-LGBTQ+ stance, of damaging McCracken’s reputation by alleging that the pastor, who leads the Southern Baptist CommUNITY church and led a rally in support of the school board, touched Sandifer’s daughter on the arm during the August school board meeting.

The allegations also include social media posts and offensive leaflets posted around McCracken’s church.

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The lawsuit was filed last year, but on May 24, Roanoke County District Judge Charles Dorsey dismissed portions relating to Sandifer, saying McCracken’s complaint lacked specificity and clarity. Dorsey noted that Priddy was not legally notified of the lawsuit.

On Tuesday, McCracken’s attorney, Melvin Williams of Roanoke, filed a new version of the lawsuit, seeking at least $1.95 million awarded to both defendants in different ways, but also seeking damages, attorney’s fees and anything else the court wanted to award.

Photos: Protesters support teachers at Glen Cove Elementary School