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High school removes student suspension and lifts vague social media policies after FIRE sues for First Amendment violations

Teen Meme victory
  • A Tennessee high school suspended a student after he posted satirical Instagram memes about his principal while off campus.
  • FIRE sued, and now the school will remove the suspension from the student’s record while the case continues.
  • After the lawsuit, the school also removed from the student handbook two social media policies prohibiting “embarrassing” photos and posts “unbecoming of a Wildcat.”

TULLAHOMA, Tenn., Aug. 15, 2023 — Just weeks after a Tennessee high school student sued Tullahoma City Schools and two administrators for suspending him over Instagram memes lampooning the principal, the school district has removed the suspension from the student’s record for the duration of the lawsuit. 

The school district also removed the two student handbook policies that the lawsuit challenges. The 17-year-old student is represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

“We’re glad that the school has taken these corrective actions, but the fight isn’t over,” said FIRE attorney Conor Fitzpatrick. “We won’t rest until the student’s constitutional rights are fully vindicated and the district removes this suspension, and these vague policies, for good.” 

FIRE’s lawsuit explains that former Tullahoma High School Principal Jason Quick and Vice Principal Derrick Crutchfield issued the student a three-day suspension during his junior year for posting three memes lampooning Quick. The first meme showed Quick holding a box of vegetables with the caption, “🔥My brotha🔥.” The second depicted Quick as an anime cat with cat ears and whiskers wearing a dress. The third showed Quick’s head superimposed on a hand-drawn cartoon character being hugged by a cartoon bird. The student intended the images to be tongue-in-cheek commentary, gently lampooning a school administrator he perceived as humorless. 

The lawsuit explains that the memes caused no disruption at school and that the student posted them away from campus and outside school hours. But Quick and Crutchfield suspended the student anyway, claiming reliance on the school’s social media policy which banned images that “embarrass,” “discredit,” or “humiliate” another student or school staff member. Another school policy banned posts “unbecoming of a Wildcat,” the Tullahoma High School mascot.

As part of the lawsuit on the student’s behalf, FIRE filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, seeking a court order removing the suspension from the student’s record while the case proceeds. FIRE also sued to strike down both social media policies.

The school district lifted the policies shortly after FIRE filed the lawsuit. And the district also removed the suspension while litigation continues.

The case will continue as the student and FIRE seek to permanently lift the policies and the student’s suspension as well as obtain monetary damages for the violation of the student’s First Amendment rights.

“The First Amendment protects the right of America’s students to express themselves on social media and even criticize or satirize school officials,” said Fitzpatrick. “As long as the student’s expression does not substantially disrupt the school day, school administrators have no business acting as a board of censors over students’ private speech.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates Americans about the importance of these inalienable rights, promotes a culture of respect for these rights, and provides the means to preserve them. 

FIRE is assisted in this case by local counsel Darrick O’Dell of Spicer Rudstrom PLLC.

Katie Kortepeter, Communications Campaign Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; 


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