A Tennessee high school has reversed its speech policies following a lawsuit by a 17-year-old student who was suspended for posting memes about the principal, according to a Tuesday press release.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a First Amendment advocacy group, filed a lawsuit in July on behalf of a senior at Tullahoma High School, alleging that the administration suspended the student for posting satirical images, or memes, on Instagram that poked fun at the principal’s “overly serious” behavior.
In an agreement, the high school has wiped the student’s suspension from his record while the lawsuit continues and has removed pages from its handbook that state students cannot “embarrass,” “discredit” or “humiliate” members of the school community.
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“We’re glad that the school has taken these corrective actions, but the fight isn’t over,” Conor Fitzpatrick, a FIRE attorney, said in the press release. “We won’t rest until the student’s constitutional rights are fully vindicated and the district removes this suspension, and these vague policies, for good.”
The lawsuit alleges that Tullahoma High School administration suspended the 17-year-old student for three days after he posted a series of images of the principal, Jason Quick, including one depicting the administrator as an anime cat wearing a dress.
The administration allegedly justified the suspension with its social media policy that prohibits content that may “embarrass,” “discredit” or “humiliate” a member of its community or is “unbecoming of a Wildcat.”
Quick announced his resignation in May ahead of the lawsuit, though it is unclear if his exit is connected to the controversy, according to the Tullahoma News.
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The lawsuit alleges that the school administrators violated the student’s First Amendment rights after he was suspended for posting something off campus. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that free expression outside of normal school hours is permitted and within one’s First Amendment rights, the lawsuit alleges.
“This case is about a thin-skinned high school principal defying the First Amendment and suspending a student for lampooning the principal on the student’s Instagram page even though the posts caused no disruption at school,” the lawsuit states.
Tullahoma High School did not immediately respond to request for comment.
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