A teenager in the US state of Michigan faced suspension and was threatened with expulsion from Freeland High School for creating a parody account on Instagram of one of his teachers; and now, his father is suing the school for taking action he says violated his son's First Amendment rights.
The 14-year-old boy, who has not been named, created the Instagram account in May outside of school premises and using his Xbox, naming it to vaguely resemble the name of his biology teacher. He then posted one image – apparently a nonsensical one in the format of a meme, showing a gas station with an embedded hypodermic needle and the caption, “Watch out guys, I am concerned for everyone's safety.”
The teen then shared his account's login details with a couple of friends, who proceeded to post other images that were later reported by the teacher to the school and deemed by the principal to be “inappropriate.”
The principal, Traci L. Smith – who has been named as a defendant in the lawsuit – contacted the police over this and the police obtained from Instagram the IP addresses of all posters to the account – determining that only the first post came from the boy who originally created the account, meaning, none of the allegedly inappropriate ones.
Nevertheless, he was suspended and even faced the threat of expulsion at one point – despite both friends who used the account and himself saying that he was not the author of any of the posts past the initial one.
According to MI Live, a lawyer representing the father, Philip L. Ellison said the point of the lawsuit was to prove that the school had no business punishing the teen for his behavior – and that this was instead the role of the parents.
Suspecting unconstitutional activity on the part of the school, Ellison, on behalf of the father, filed a Freedom of Information Act, but was denied; however, the police provided IP addresses needed for the expulsion hearing.
The suit rests on the claim that the student's First Amendment free speech rights were violated when the school went after him for a parody social media account, created off of its premises.
“Defendants had no reasonable apprehension of disturbance from students at Freeland Community School District. The vague and overbroad policies and related punishment unlawfully prohibit and chill speech that is protected by the First Amendment,” the filing said.