Courthouse News Service reports that a March 2 opinion by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia has ruled that the Anderson Mill Elementary School in Spartanburg County, South Carolina and its principal had not exceeded their authority to regulate school-sponsored student speech when they refused to distribute a student essay on a controversial topic.
At issue was an essay authored by a 10-year-old girl on the topic of transgender individuals. Thework was originally included in an essay collection placed in the student’s classroom and distributed to parents. The school principal ordered the essay to be removed, telling the girl’s mother that it was age-inappropriate and would upset some parents. The mother filed a lawsuit on behalf of herself and her daughter for a claimed violation of the First Amendment, naming the principal, the school and the school district as defendants.
The law is pretty clear on this point, and I suspect that this was a pro-trans rights grandstanding and virtue-signaling exercise by someone who has time on their hands and money to burn, and who found a lawyer wanting to make noise about alleged anti-transgender discrimination…which this incident was not.
I regard such lawsuits as unethical abuses of process.
The appeals court said the principal had qualified immunity from the suit, citing the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. That ruling found no constitutional violation when a school district had refused to publish articles about divorce and teenage pregnancy in the school newspaper. “This case falls neatly within the Hazelwood framework,” Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote. Moreover, the judge wrote, the school district was also protected since the principal had not violated the child’s First Amendment rights. The girl’s mother’s suit had argued that the principal’s decision constituted impermissible viewpoint discrimination, presumably because she was told that he was concerned about the reaction of other parents. Although other circuits are split on the question of whether restrictions on school-sponsored student speech must be viewpoint neutral under Hazelwood, Thacker wrote, “We need not pick a side in this debate today,” for the principal’s decision was viewpoint neutral on its face. No essay taking the opposite view of the 10-year old had been included among the distributed essays. He had acted to reject the topic, not the opinion.
Here is the essay:
“I don’t know if you know this but peoples view on tran’s genders is an issue. People think that men should not drees like a women, and saying mean things. They think that they are choosing the wrong thing in life. In the world people can choose who they want to be not being told that their diction is wrong. I hope people understand that people can hurt themselves from others hurting their feelings. People need to think before they speak because one word can hurt someone’s feelings. We need to fix this because this is getting out of hand!”
I know the student is only in the 5th grade, but the principal (and the girl’s teacher) would have been justified in pulling the essay based on kindness. I count at least eight spelling, punctuation and grammar errors. I know public school instruction as gone to Hell since my elementary school days, but students should still not be praised for essays that demonstrate no particular skill in any aspect of writing. That essay roils with evidence of classroom indoctrination and lax standards.