The ACLU of New Jersey is taking a local high school to task after two students were suspended after posting photos of legally owned guns on a weekend while away from school.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court Wednesday against the Lacey Township School District and school administrators in both their official and individual capacities, alleges the teens had their constitutionally protected First Amendment rights violated by the suspension.
As detailed in court documents, one of the boys posted pictures of the two seniors on a Saturday range outing with family, far away from school grounds, to Snapchat. Most of the images were uncaptioned while one was labeled with a reference to a “zombie apocalypse” and another said, “hot stuff.” When the boys returned to class on Monday, they were suspended by administrators who said the pictures would cause a disruption, even though the nature of Snapchat is that the platform deletes images after 24 hours. Prior to the suspensions, neither of the youth had been disciplined in the past by school officials for anything more than being tardy on a few occasions.
Worse, argues the 15-page filing, is that rumors of the two student’s punishment quickly circulated on social media and were even picked up by local news, which led to the school initially denying it disciplined the boys over the issue.
“When I was pulled into the principal’s office for something I shared with my friends privately, outside of school, over a weekend, it felt like I had no place where I could truly speak freely,” said H.S., the student whose Snapchat post sparked the school’s actions, whose name is withheld as he was a minor at the time of the suspension.
The ACLU is seeking a statement added to the student’s permanent records that their rights were violated as well as revisions to school policies that the district cannot punish students for constitutionally protected speech while off campus.
“The technology for communicating ideas may change, but the fundamental principle remains the same: young people have the right to express themselves, and, with rare exceptions, they shouldn’t face punishment by school administrators for it,” said CJ Griffin, an attorney for the students.