A watchdog group sued a public high school in Tennessee Wednesday on behalf of a 17-year-old student after school administrators suspended him for posting memes about the principal.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a First Amendment advocacy group, filed a lawsuit on behalf of a rising senior at Tullahoma High School, alleging that the school suspended him for posting satirical images on Instagram that criticized the principal’s “overly serious” behavior. The lawsuit alleges that the school violated the student’s First Amendment rights by suspending him for a social media post that happened outside of the school.
“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.
“Plaintiff I.P. posted three images about his Tullahoma High School principal, Defendant Jason Quick,” the lawsuit states. “One showed Quick holding a box of vegetables, another (which I.P. merely reposted) showed Quick in a dress with cat ears and whiskers, and the third showed Quick’s face on a video game character being hugged by a cartoon bird. I.P. intended the images to satirize, in I.P.’s view, Quick’s overly serious demeanor. I.P. posted each image from his own device, off campus, and on his own time.”
The lawsuit alleges that the school administrators are not allowed to prohibit this type of expression as it happened off campus, according to the lawsuit. It further states that the Supreme Court has previously held that free expression outside of school hours is within one’s First Amendment rights.
“The First Amendment bars public school employees from acting as a round-the-clock board of censors over student expression,” the lawsuit states. “The Supreme Court has been clear: Unless a student’s off-campus expression causes a substantial disruption at school, the job of policing their speech falls to parents, not the government.”
The lawsuit is seeking injunctive relief to reverse the suspension and it requests an acknowledgment that the school district’s policies violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Tullahoma High School did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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