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Tennessee School That Suspended Student Over Memes Reverses Decision As First Amendment Lawsuit Progresses

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In a win for personal freedom in the realm of online expression, a Tennessee high-school student whose satirical memes about his principal led to his suspension, will have those sanctions lifted for the duration of a lawsuit.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), the organization advocating for free speech and intellectual freedom rights filed the suit. The Tullahoma High School rising senior, known as “I.P.” in court documents, was backed by FIRE in alleging that the school’s suspension, triggered by off-campus online content, constituted a violation of the First Amendment.

“This case is about a thin-skinned high school principal defying the First Amendment and suspending a student for lampooning the principal on the student’s Instagram page even though the posts caused no disruption at school,” the opening of the complaint reads.

The same lawsuit also compelled Tullahoma High to revise its handbook policies, thereby ending the prohibition on “embarrassing” social media images and posts considered to be “unbecoming of a Wildcat,” which is the school’s mascot.

FIRE attorney Conor Fitzpatrick stated, “We’re glad that the school has taken these corrective actions, but the fight isn’t over,” and went on to vow continued fights for the student’s constitutional rights, including the removal of the current suspension and the termination of the nebulous policies.

The “offensive” memes featured Principal Jason Quick in various scenarios, including an image with a box of vegetables, another transformed into an anime cat, and lastly, an image in which his head is superimposed on a cartoon figure embraced by a bird. The student’s intention, as mentioned in the press release, was a light-hearted and satirical critique of what he saw as a humorless principal.

In the meantime, the Tullahoma High School district, acting in response to FIRE’s petition for an initial court order to eliminate the suspension from the student’s record and junk the contentious social media policies, has taken necessary actions. The lawsuit continues, however, with FIRE and the student seeking to permanently reverse the policy and suspension, as well as pursuing monetary damages for the student.

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