GREENVILLE, Miss. (CN) – A high school senior sued his principal, superintendent and school board, claiming he was unconstitutionally punished for writing and recording a rap song, on his own time, off campus, and posting it on his Facebook page. The song criticized two school coaches for “flirting with female students and inappropriate contact with intimate body parts of female students,” the student says – behavior that he says he witnessed.
Taylor Bell, 18, sued the Itawamba County School Board, county School Superintendent Teresa McNeece and Itawamba Agricultural High School Principal Trae Wiygul, in Federal Court.
Bell was suspended and sent to alternative school for 5 weeks after school administrators learned about his rap song, called “PSK The Truth Need to be Told.”
Bell says the song “was produced off school property, without using school resources, never played or performed at the school, not performed at a school sponsored event, and never accessed by student on school property.”
Bell says he had never been in trouble at school, whose only disciplinary action against him before this “was a one day in-school suspension for too many tardies.”
He says he wrote the song after he “learned from several female students at Itawamba that two athletic coaches were engaging in harmful conduct towards female students, including but not limited to, flirting with female students and inappropriate contact with intimate body parts of female students.”
“Mr. Bell had also personally witnessed inappropriate conduct by these two athletic coaches,” the complaint states.
Bell says wrote and recorded the song because he was “outraged.”
He adds: “The song vaguely reference the two athletic coaches accused of the misconduct and describes the misconduct told to him by the female students. Mr. Bell also metaphorically warned that the public might retaliate against the coaches for this conduct.”
He posted the song on his Facebook back on Jan. 3.
He adds that his Facebook page “only allows pre-approved people to view his communications or information, which he had limited to personal friends.”
The complaint states: “Mr. Bell never attempted to or accessed the Facebook page on Itawamba property or facilities. He never brought a recorded copy of the song to the school. He never listen[ed] to or downloaded the song from a school computer. He did not inform other students or school officials at Itawamba about the song, while at Itawamba facilities or property or at a school sponsored event or during school hours. Mr. Bell did not perform the song to any Itawamba students or school officials. Mr. Bell did not encourage Itawamba students [or] school officials to listen to the song at school, during school hours, or at a school sponsored event.” Nonetheless, Bell says, four days after he posted it on Facebook, he was taken out of class to meet with the school principal, the superintendent and the school board attorney, all of whom accused him of “making false allegations and threats.”
Bell says he responded “that the statements in the song were true and that the lyrics were intended to warn others of the alleged behavior and were not intended to be a threat.”
Bell says he was “indefinitely suspended pending a hearing,” which came 12 days later. At the hearing, “The song was played for the disciplinary committee. At the hearing, Mr. Bell gave the school officials copies of letters from female students verifying the statements made in the song.”
Bell says the committee found that his song “did not constitute a direct threat and instead amounted to harassment and intimidation of school teachers. The disciplinary committee recommended a seven-day suspension and five weeks at Itawamba Alternative School. To this point, it does not appear as if the school officials have done any investigation into the statements from the female students.”
The school board approved the punishment of a seven day suspension and five weeks of alternative school.
Bell says the defendants punished him for constitutionally protected speech. He seeks reinstatement to his regular classes, wants records of the incident expunged, and wants the defendants enjoined “from enforcing the school disciplinary code against students for expression that takes place outside of the school or school-sponsored activities.”
He is represented by Wilbur Colom of Columbus, Miss.
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