The family of a Brusly High School senior sued his principal and officials of the West Baton Rouge Parish school system Friday over punishment the youth received for a Facebook posting that contained unflattering references to a teacher.
Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit in Baton Rouge federal district court on behalf of John Doe and Minor Doe.
“Students have the full legal right to criticize their teachers,” Marjorie R. Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said in a written statement.
“They have done so throughout the ages,” Esman added. “The fact that this student used a (home) computer to express his opinions in no way diminishes his First Amendment right to speak his mind.”
West Baton Rouge Superintendent David Corona said the student’s actions violated rules that outlaw personal attacks.
“This is about a student who was suspended for using extremely offensive language in referencing a teacher on Facebook,” Corona said. “It violated the … Internet usage policy.”
That policy, Corona said, prohibits students from visiting inappropriate websites, or bullying others, or using offensive language against others.
“Obviously, using offensive language about a teacher is one of the things our policy prohibits,” Corona said.
In their suit, the family concedes the Facebook posting last month was “critical and insulting.” The specific content of the posting is not included in the suit.
The student’s parents contend in the suit that their son intended the posting “as a joke,” showed it to 10 other students and then removed it from his Facebook page.
But one of the other students “took a cellphone picture of the posting and sent it via text message to the teacher at issue,” the parents added in their suit, which is assigned to Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson.
Brusly High Principal Walter Lemoine later imposed a two-day in-school suspension on Minor Doe and removed the student from Beta Club, “an academic honors society,” the suit says.
Because of the suspension, the senior was not able to participate in two in-class reviews for exams on which he later performed poorly, the suit alleges.
In their suit, the family is asking Jackson to order the student’s suspension stricken from school records and school officials barred from mentioning the suspension to anyone.
The judge also is asked to require school system officials to allow Minor Doe to retake the two exams on which he scored poorly. And his parents want restoration of the student’s membership in Beta Club.
The family also seeks an unspecified level of financial compensation.