A New Jersey student has filed a federal court lawsuit, H.W. v. Sterling High School District, alleging that she has been subject to disability discrimination and that her First Amendment rights have been violated.
The student, known only as H.W. in court papers, was banned from the prom, senior trip, and the school’s commencement ceremony following a tweet wherein the student called the principal a “pussy ass bitch.” The student alleges in her suit that the tweet was the result of “oppositional defiant disorder,” a psychological disorder, which the student alleges causes her to have difficulty with authority and dramatic mood swings. The suit claims that the school’s punishment of the student violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination since the school failed to consider the student’s behavior as a consequence of her psychological condition.
Additionally, the student claims the remark, although offensive, is entitled to First Amendment protection because it was made off of school grounds, outside school hours, and did not disrupt school activities. As we have previously discussed (and as raised by plaintiff’s counsel), two prominent rulings in J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, 650 F.3d 915 (2011) and Laycock v. Hermitage School District, 650 F.3d 205 (2011) have upheld a student’s free-speech rights concerning online posts about school officials.
In addition to the tweet about the school’s principal, the student also claims that another one of her tweets, an invitation for her classmates to “smoke with [her] before school tomorrow,” was also protected by the First Amendment. The school interpreted that tweet as a reference to smoking marijuana and ordered the student to submit to drug test.
Both tweets were sent after the student received a 2 day suspension for using her cell phone during the school day in violation of school rules. The suit seeks an apology, an injunction against the school barring the student from school activities, an injunction against the drug test, an expungement of documents related to the incidents, a revision of school policies, damages, legal fees and costs.