A 17-year-old Tennessee high school student is suing his school district and school board after being suspended for creating satirical memes on social media and posting them to his principal.
According to the federal lawsuit, filed July 19, the unnamed student, who is scheduled to begin his senior year at Tullahoma High School, is accusing the Tullahoma City School District, current principal Jason Quick, and assistant principal Derrick Crutchfield of violating his First Amendment right to free speech after being suspended for three days for posting the memes on Instagram.
Attorneys representing the school district and the administration did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
“This case concerns a thin-skinned principal who defies the First Amendment and suspends a student for mocking the principal on his Instagram page, even though the posts did not cause any disruption at the school,” the student’s attorneys said in their complaint.
According to the lawsuit, the student posted three memes featuring Quick on his personal Instagram account in 2022, off campus and during summer vacation.
The satirical memes included an image of Quick holding a box of veggies with the caption, “Like a sister, but no sister.”
“The student wanted the images to make a tongue-in-cheek commentary, gently mocking a school administrator who he found lacking humor,” said Conor Fitzpatrick, the lead attorney representing the student, in an interview opinion.
On August 10, 2022, immediately after Crutchfield notified the student that he would be suspended for five days, the student suffered a panic attack and suffered from sweating, shortness of breath and numbness in both arms, the complaint states.
The ban was later reduced to three days after Crutchfield allegedly told the student that he had “reviewed” the social media post and felt it was a more appropriate punishment.
In the statement, Fitzpatrick and other attorneys working at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a free speech advocacy group, said school administrators should not use vague social media policies to punish off-campus acts.
“Principal Quick suspended a student for joking memes — but he cannot suspend the First Amendment,” FIRE Attorney Harrison Rosenthal said in the statement.
“As long as a student’s posts do not significantly disrupt the school, what teens post on social media in their free time is between them and their parents and not the government,” Fitzpatrick added.