Mom told to ‘use kind words’ sues school officials over drop-off incident


Left: North School District Superintendent Michele Hartzell. Right: North East School Board President Nicholas Mobilia (images via North East School District).

An online battle between a Pennsylvania mom and her kids’ school superintendent over first day of school drop-off gone wrong has escalated to a federal lawsuit. Sara Kim, a mother of two whose children attend North East School District in Erie County, said her civil rights were violated when district officials used school surveillance footage to publicly ridicule her after she spoke out about an administrator’s inappropriate parking lot behavior.

According to the complaint filed, Kim was in the process of dropping off her two K-2 age children for the first day of school in August 2023 when, as they exited her car in the drop-off line, the school superintendent, Michele Hartzell, “exited the school doors, frantically waived her arms, and yelled loudly and repeatedly at Kim to move her vehicle forward, despite the fact that Kim’s children were still exiting the vehicle.”

According to Kim, she did move her car once it became safe to do so, and the entire incident was captured by video surveillance cameras located at or around the elementary school.

Kim then took Facebook to post about her frustration with Hartzell’s behavior, titling her post “RANT WARNING.” In the lengthy post, Kim took direct aim at Hartzell, referring to her by name and as “Madame Superintendent.” Kim said that Hartzell’s behavior did not reflect the district’s behavior policies and reminded readers that her small children were carrying $60 in school supplies as they exited her vehicle on the first day of school. Kim noted that it should not be a hard task to remain “sanely intact” or to “manage drop off line with grace” for a person who “chose education as [a] professional pathway.”


Sara Kim Facebook post via court documents

Sara Kim Facebook post via court documents.

Kim also suggested a response to Hartzell.

“Don’t like what I posted?” Kim asked, “then change your tune — change your dynamic — change the morale.”

Hartzell, however, responded in an email directly to the mom of two in which she requested that Kim take down her post and suggested that Kim use “kind words” instead of complaints.

The text of the email, which was included in Kim’s court filing, read as follows:

Good afternoon,

I am respectfully requesting that you remove your negative post from today, specifically the one about me regarding the first day of school. Possibly consider using some kind words such as, “wow, it is nice to see our Superintendent help out.” My team always helps out the first few days of school to ensure all parents/guardians know to move their vehicles all the way up and not stop to ensure a safe and efficient drop-off and pick-up of all our children. We also allow families to pull in to a spot if their child needs some extra time or if parents want to take a picture.

If you have an issue and/or concern in the future, I would ask you to contact me directly. I would never post anything negative about anyone and would appreciate the same respect. Additionally, I would be more than happy to meet with you, as I am always available for our parents, students, and families. It was truly an amazing first day of school for the North East School District.


Dr. Michele Spurgeon Hartzell, Superintendent North East School District

Kim responded to Hartzell’s request in a reply email that included a refusal to remove her post as well as some pointed questions — which Kim also posted to her own Facebook page.

“You are concerned for your image, yet failed to be concerned for mine as you screamed and flailed your arms at me and other parents,” Kim began.

“Did you imagine how that would make the children feel?” she asked, “The parents who pay your salary? The children who have noise sensitivity or fear?”

“You had absolutely no qualms about embarrassing me in front of other parents, faculty, and children — why wouldn’t I return the favor?” Kim continued, then called Hartzell’s behavior “appalling” and said it amounted to “subpar professionalism.”

Then, Kim took aim directly at Hartzell’s suggestion that she use “kind words”:

“Also — why would I thank you for showing up to the drop off line on the first day of school for K-2 students?” Kim asked. “That is completely asinine — your hefty salary should demand you show up with no thanks at all.”

“You certainly didn’t go above and beyond,” Kim retorted. “I will not be silent.”

Kim promised to be an advocate for children and teachers in the district.

“It was indeed a wonderful first day for my children — because of the TEACHERS of this school,” Kim concluded, before adding, “I have a feeling this won’t be our last chat.”

According to complaint Kim filed in federal district court in Pennsylvania Tuesday, naming Hartzell, the school board president, Nicholas Mobilia, and the North East School District as defendants, Hartzell discussed the incident with Mobilia. Kim alleged that thereafter, Hartzell and Mobilia worked together, “to target Kim in retaliation for expressing her opinions and refusing to give in to Hartzell’s demands.”

This retaliation, said Kim included requesting the surveillance video of the drop off, and showing it to multiple who were not associated with the school district while they “denigrated and ridiculed” Kim.

Kim said Mobilia even showed the footage to multiple people at the winery he owns in an effort to “publicly humiliate Kim throughout the community of North East.”

In her federal lawsuit, Kim raised civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating her First Amendment rights by retaliating against her protected speech. Kim also claimed that the defendants invaded her privacy by unreasonably placing her in a false light. Kim seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Following the incident, but before she filed her lawsuit, Kim posted on Facebook asking supporters to write her name in as a choice for North East School Board.

Sara Callan Kim Facebook post. (Image via Facebook).

Kim was not elected and Mobilia remains the president of the school board.

You can read the full lawsuit here.

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *