School district suspends student for posting memes of principal, sends ‘dangerous lesson to kids,’ lawyers say

Lawsuit argues student's suspension for posting memes outside of school hours is unconstitutional

A high school student suspended for posting satirical memes on social media while off campus filed a lawsuit against his Tennessee school district.

"It has been part of American culture since the founding to criticize and satirize those in power," Conor Fitzpatrick, an attorney with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), told  "It teaches a very dangerous lesson to kids about what America and our Constitution is about if they're taught from a young age that if they criticize or satirize somebody in power that they can get in trouble for it."


Tennessee student’s suspension over memes sends ‘dangerous’ message: lawyerVideo

placeholderFIRE is representing the 17-year-old rising senior — identified only as "I.P." in court filings — in a First Amendment lawsuit against Tullahoma City Schools.

Last August, Tullahoma High School Principal Jason Quick and Assistant Principal Derrick Crutchfield called the student into their office to question him about three images shared on his personal Instagram account, according to the lawsuit.

The first image shows Quick holding a box of vegetables and the second depicts Quick as an anime cat girl wearing a maid outfit. Both were posted during summer break, lawyers argue. I.P. shared the third image at home after his second day of school in August 2022. It shows Quick's head superimposed on a video game character with a cartoon bird from the "Regular Show" clinging to his leg, according to the lawsuit.

"The memes were very tame," Fitzpatrick said. "They did not threaten anyone. They did not contain any bad words. But what they did do is poke fun at the principal's overly serious nature."

Memes shared by a Tennessee high school student depicting his principal

Memes shared by a student show Tullahoma High School’s principal in a satirical light. (Courtesy Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression)


Quick and Crutchfield suspended the student for three days, citing a Tullahoma High School policy banning students from posting pictures — whether at home or school — that embarrass, demean or discredit any student or staff, according to the lawsuit.

But FIRE argues the school's policy is overly broad and vague. Fitzpatrick said two Supreme Court cases support their position.

In 1969, the court sided with students who had been suspended for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War in Tinker v. Des Moines. More recently, justices ruled a Pennsylvania school was wrong to remove a student from the cheer team over a profanity-laced Snapchat post.

"As long as a student's expression does not substantially disrupt the school day, the First Amendment protects their right to make their voices heard," Fitzpatrick said, adding that handling a social media post is "for the parent, not the government."

Mary Beth and John Tinker hold black armbands

Mary Beth Tinker and her brother, John, display two black armbands in 1968. The Tinkers and three other students were suspended for wearing the bands to mourn the Vietnam war dead. (Getty Images)

"Posting content which embarrasses or discredits a government official is protected by the First Amendment," Fitzpatrick said. "It has been for over 200 years."

Quick's last day with the school district was in June, according to a local news report. His resignation does not appear to be connected to the lawsuit, which was filed last week.

A spokesperson for Tullahoma City Schools did not respond to a request for comment.

To hear more about the case, click here.

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