TULLAHOMA, Tenn. (WKRN) — A Tullahoma High School student’s suspension has been removed after he sued the school for violating his First Amendment rights, his legal firm says.
Last month, the student sued his high school for suspending him for three days after he posted satirical memes of his principal on Instagram.
He is being represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a First Amendment advocacy group, which said weeks after they filed the lawsuit, the school has removed the student’s suspension from his record amid the ongoing case and altered its social media policies at issue in the suit.
“We’re glad that the school has taken these corrective actions, but the fight isn’t over,” said FIRE attorney Conor Fitzpatrick. “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.”
In their complaint, FIRE said former Tullahoma High School Principal Jason Quick and Assistant Principal Derrick Crutchfield issued a three-day suspension for the student during his junior year for posting three Instagram memes lampooning Quick. The first meme showed Quick holding a box of vegetables with the caption “My brotha,” including fire emojis. The second depicted Quick as an anime cat with cat ears and whiskers wearing a dress. The third showed Quick’s head superimposed on a hand-drawn cartoon character being hugged by a cartoon bird. The student intended the images to be tongue-in-cheek commentary, gently lampooning a school administrator he perceived as humorless, according to FIRE.
The student was suspended for violating two THS policies in the 2022-2023 student handbook. The first was a social media rule that said any photo or video that “resulted in the embarrassment, demeaning or discrediting” of a student or staff member would subject the student to discipline, including suspension or expulsion. The second policy said any conduct “unbecoming of a Wildcat” would also subject a student to disciplinary action.
FIRE said both policies were vague and sued to strike them down.
According to FIRE, the removal of the suspension and the policy changes happened after they filed the lawsuit. A look at the 2023-2024 version of the THS student handbook shows different policies in place.
The case will continue, according to FIRE, as the group and the student seek to permanently lift the policies and the student’s suspension as well as obtain monetary damages for the violation of the student’s First Amendment rights.
“The First Amendment protects the right of America’s students to express themselves on social media and even criticize or satirize school officials,” Fitzpatrick said. “As long as the student’s expression does not substantially disrupt the school day, school administrators have no business acting as a board of censors over students’ private speech.”
Tullahoma City Schools Communications Specialist Zach Birdsong told News 2, “TCS does not comment on pending litigation.”