Doe v. Hopkinton Public Schools

February 11, 2021
Court: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

FIRE filed an amicus curiae brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in support of two high school students suspended for telling jokes about a classmate in a private Snapchat discussion among a group of friends. FIRE’s brief argues that the district court’s decision to uphold the students’ suspensions subverted their First Amendment liberties and contradicted established precedents governing high school speech restrictions. The district court also erred in dismissing the students’ facial challenge to the school’s bullying policy and Massachusetts’ anti-bullying statute, both of which define “bullying” in part as speech that causes “emotional harm” to another student.

FIRE argued that if public schools are permitted to police and punish the private, protected speech of their students; if they may suspend students simply for associating with friends in an online discussion; and if they must punish students who cross an imperceptible, subjective boundary while expressing themselves, then a generation of students will be taught that the First Amendment is a dead letter. We urge the Court to reverse the district court’s decision and hold both that the punishment violated the students’ rights of freedom of expression and association and that the anti-bullying statute at issue is vague and overbroad.