Bell v. Itawamba Cty. Sch. Bd., No. 12-60264 (5th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs, a high school student and his mother, filed suit against defendants for violation of the student's freedom of speech under the First Amendment and the mother's substantive due process right to parental authority under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs' complaint stemmed from the student's suspension and transfer to an alternative school for his posting of a rap song on his Facebook page and on YouTube that criticized and named two male athletic coaches at his school for sexually harassing female students. The court concluded that, even assuming arguendo the School Board could invoke Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in this case, it would not afford the School Board a defense for its violation of the student's First Amendment rights because the evidence does not support a finding, as would be required by Tinker, that the student's song either substantially disrupted the school's work or discipline or that the school officials reasonably could have forecasted such a disruption. In the alternative, the court concluded that the student's song did not gravely and uniquely threaten violence to the school population such to justify discipline pursuant to the court's narrow holding in Ponce v. Socorro Independent School District that student speech that threatened a Columbine-style attack on a school was not protected by the First Amendment. In this case, the student's speech did not constitute a true threat as evidenced by, inter alia, its public broadcast as a rap song, its conditional nature, and the reactions of its listeners. The district court reversed in part and rendered in favor of the student against the School Board on the First Amendment claim; remanded and directed the district court to award the student nominal damages, court costs, appropriate attorneys' fees, and an injunction ordering the School Board to expunge all references to the incident at issue from the student's school records. The court affirmed in all other respects.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on December 16, 2014.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on February 23, 2015.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on August 20, 2015.