CHICAGO (CN) – A teenager’s lawsuit challenging his expulsion from school over a tweet posted in jest will move to trial, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge John Tunheim said the defendants in the lawsuit did not provide sufficient arguments to grant their motions for judgment on the pleadings.
Reid Brazell Sagehorn sued his school district, principal, superintendent, assistant superintendent and two police officers on June 17, 2014, after he was forced to withdraw from school over what he says was a joke.
On an anonymous website involving Rogers High School students, the question “did @R_Sagehorn3 actually make out with [name of female teacher,]?” to which Sagehorn tweeted the response “actually yes,” a statement, he later said was “intended to be taken in jest.”
According to Tunheim’s opinion, Sagehorn was suspended for five days after a parent raised concern to the school. The suspension was extended and expulsion was threatened, and Superintendent Mark Bezik told his parents “a hearing would be meaningless and the outcome was pre-ordained.” Faced with the expulsion, Sagehorn withdrew from school.
Rogers Police Chief Jeffrey Beahen, whose officer had become involved in the situation, told various media sources that Sagehorn’s conduct was criminal and he could face felony charges.
The incident caused an uproar within the school’s community, with an outpouring of support for the honor student and athlete.
Tunheim said the defendants, who are being sued for violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as defamation, in Beahen’s case, did not show Sagehorn was wrong.
The school argued that comments made on the Internet could bleed into the school environment, but the judge’s response was that “while the Internet may pose new challenges, it did not change the law.”
He said that even though the comment was made outside of a school, “First Amendment protections also apply in a school setting,” and that there was a “stark contrast between Sagehorn’s speech and speech that would now be considered obscene.”
Tunheim further noted that Sagehorn “was coerced and intimidated into withdrawing, and therefore did not waive his right to procedural due process,” a right granted by Minnesota statue.
As for the defamation claims, Tunheim said that the lawsuit “quotes some of Beahen’s statements with sufficient specifics to enable Beahen to file a responsive pleading.”
A second police officer was dismissed from the lawsuit.
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