A school principal in Tennessee is suing his school district and its superintendent for suspending him after he taught kids about Big Tech censorship. The lawsuit claims his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated.
We obtained a copy of the lawsuit for you here.
Following the events of January 6, the Shelby County Schools superintendent Joris Ray told principals to discuss the Capitol riot as a “teachable moment.” Cordova High School’s Principal Barton Thorne did exactly what the superintendent said.
In a virtual classroom, Thorne talked to students about the threat of Big Tech censorship in the aftermath of the riot. The riot at the US Capitol was used as a justification for Facebook, Twitter and more to censor President Trump and other conservatives.
Thorne accused these platforms of deciding who gets to speak and what message or ideology to amplify.
“I’m not going to tell you what to think, I just want to help you think,” Principal Thorne told his students in a online class a few days after the Capitol Hill riot.
Read the full transcript of Thorne’s message to students here.
His remarks got him swiftly put on administrative leave by the Shelby County Schools (SCS) pending a “professional misconduct” investigation.
On January 25, his lawyers, from the Liberty Justice Center, sent the SCS a warning letter demanding the immediate reinstatement of Thorne and to “publicly apologize for suggesting his actions were inappropriate.”
In the warning letter, Thorne’s lawyers argued that he merely followed Ray’s instructions. The superintendent’s email to educators suggested several educational materials, including a National Constitution Center lesson plan suggesting students should discuss “the importance of free speech on social media,” College Fix found.
After the school district’s inaction, on February 25, Thorne filed a federal lawsuit at the Western District of Tennessee District Court against the Shelby County Board of Education and Superintendent Joris Ray. Two days earlier, his lawyers gave the school district two days to “enter into confidential settlement discussions.” The SCS did not oblige, and the lawyers released a press release announcing the lawsuit, with the warning letter, transcript of Thorne’s video attached.
In the press release, Thorne is described as “a career educator in a very diverse community” who is flabbergasted with his suspension “for speaking with students about the First Amendment.” The press release continues to state that Thorne will not remain silent “any more than I would allow a student to be marginalized for sharing a perfectly reasonable point of view.”
“The ‘cancel culture’ taking foot in America has now reached our schools, and I will not stand for it,” Thorne added.
In the video, Thorne acknowledges the unconstitutional nature of the Capitol riot, even calling what happened “sedition.” However, he raised concerns about Big tTech platforms for “their decision as private companies to filter and decide what you can hear and know about.”
Based on the employee handbook, his lawyers argue that nothing Thorne told his students was “irresponsible or untruthful … obscene, profane, or discourteous … harassing, discriminatory, or intimidating towards students or staff in his building … dangerous or disruptive.” He also did not violate any ethics code for teachers or anything that “constituted incompetence or improper conduct.”
Additionally, his swift placement on administrative leave was a violation of the school districts procedures. The conditions for swift removal are “sexual harassment, disorderly conduct, or the situations where the employee presents a potential threat to other employees.”
The lawsuit also points out that other educators in the school district had no action taken against them for discussing “timely and controversial issues.” Some employees have tweeted against Trump. Shortly after Trump lost the 2020 election, the district’s communication strategist Jerica Phillips tweeted:
“Authoritarianism is a form of government characterized by the rejection of political plurality.”
The district’s innovation chief, Amity Schuyler, uploaded a photo of the Capitol riot showing a Confederate flag and said it summed up the four years of the Trump presidency.
According to the lawsuit, such tweets “are typical of the messages shared by SCS administrators and educators in their classrooms and other communications to students.”
“The different treatment of his speech from these examples and other instances shows the viewpoint discrimination specific to his speech,” the lawsuit adds.
The suit claims that Thorne has “languished for six weeks” on administrative leave without knowing what will happen to his career. He wants the defendants found guilty of violating his contractual and constitutional rights, and compensate him for punitive and nominal damages, as well as legal fees.