Robertson v. Anderson Mill Elementary School, No. 19-2157 (4th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Appellant filed suit on behalf of herself and her minor child, alleging that Principal Foster infringed on the child's First Amendment right to free speech when Foster determined that the child's fourth grade essay regarding the topic of LGBTQ equality was not age-appropriate and should not be included in the class's essay booklet.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that Foster's conduct was a proper exercise of the authority possessed by school officials to regulate school-sponsored student speech, and affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The court explained that the allegations underlying appellant's amended complaint, even if true, do not substantiate a violation of the child's constitutional rights. Applying Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988), the court concluded that Foster's regulation of the child's speech was reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns because Foster's refusal to include the child's essay in the fourth grade class's essay booklet was actuated at least in part by her concern that the essay's topic was "not age-appropriate" for fourth graders. Furthermore, even assuming, without deciding, that school officials' restrictions on school-sponsored student speech must be viewpoint neutral, the court concluded that appellant has not plausibly alleged that Foster's restriction on the child's speech violated that principle. Finally, although the district court did not comply with procedural requirements before sua sponte dismissing appellant's constitutional claim against the school district, the court concluded that the district court's failure to give appellant these procedural protections does not necessitate reversal because she was not prejudiced by the result. In this case, appellant cannot plausibly demonstrate that a constitutional violation occurred.