After a student at Brusly High School created a private Facebook post, intended to be seen only by his friends and containing comments criticizing one of his teachers, Principal Walter Lemoine suspended him for two days. Because of the suspension, the honor student was kicked out of the academic honors society and received poor grades on two exams for which he was unable to study. Today the ACLU of Louisiana sued the West Baton Rouge Parish School Board, Walter Lemoine, and Superintendent David Corona seeking to have the student's suspension expunged, to have his academic records and honor society membership restored, and damages.
"Students have the full legal right to criticize their teachers," said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "They have done so throughout the ages. The fact that this student used a computer to express his opinions in no way diminishes his First Amendment right to speak his mind."
The Facebook post was created at the student's home, using his own computer, and was protected from view by all but a select group of fellow students. One of those students passed the contents of the page on to the teacher criticized in the post, which led to the disciplinary action. "Before Facebook, students wrote notes about their teachers," Esman continued. "Nobody expected those notes to be given to the teachers, and nobody questioned the students' legal rights to write them. All Facebook does is transform a written note into a digital format, and the student's rights are no different."
For decades, it has been clear that students have the full protection of the First Amendment outside of school. "No school has the right to extend its reach to activities that are legal and conducted off campus," said ACLU of Louisiana Staff Attorney Justin Harrison. "This student needs to have his First Amendment rights restored."
The student, who is anonymous in court filings, is represented by ACLU of Louisiana Staff Attorney Justin Harrison and Cooperating Attorney Vincent Booth.
A copy of the ACLU's complaint is available here.