A Tennessee high school student is suing his school district and administrator after being suspended for posting sardonic memes about the principal on social media.
“This case is about a thin-skinned high school principal defying the First Amendment and suspending a student for lampooning the principle of the student’s Instagram page even though the posts caused no disruption at school,” the first line of the lawsuit reads.
The federal lawsuit was filed on July 19 in the Eastern District of Tennessee Winchester Division and identifies the 17-year-old student by his initials, I.P.
I.P. was a junior at Tullahoma High School in August 2022 when he posted three memes on his public Instagram account featuring former principal Jason Quick.
According to the suit, all the memes were posted on the student’s personal device, off school grounds and during his own time.
The student’s attorney, Conor Fitzpatrick, claims the suspension was a violation of the student’s First Amendment rights.
“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 states.
In a similar case from 2021, Mahanoy Area School District was sued by a student after she was suspended for posting a negative post about the school on her social media. The Supreme Court held the school violated the student’s First Amendment rights, finding that her actions had not been disruptive enough to warrant the punishment.
In the Tennessee case, I.P. was initially handed a five-day suspension by an assistant principal, though the punishment was reduced to three days after the student had a panic attack , the lawsuit claims.
I.P is asking that his suspension be expunged from his record and is seeking unknown monetary damages.
Fitzpatrick said they are also asking the court to prevent the high school from enforcing its vague social media policy that is “equally unconstitutional.”
The current policy “prohibits students from engaging in social media activity unbecoming of a Wildcat.”
Fitzpatrick says the school’s policy can’t override the First Amendment rights of students.
Quick resigned his position as principal on June 30.