Student Body President Sues For Reinstatement and Violation of Free Speech Rights
A high school senior is suing his faculty advisors, principal, and school district, for allegedly removing him from his elected position of Student Body President with no legitimate educational reason. He was elected in April 2011 as student body president for the 2011-2012 school year, and abruptly removed from his position after introducing a suggestion to make the Prom Court more egalitarian.
In his complaint, Lack sets forth the facts which lead to his removal as student body president. Essentially, through proper parliamentary procedure, Lack suggested that the student body council change the title of Prom King and Queen to Prom Court, so that a same gender couple had an equal opportunity to win the title.
At the first meeting in which he suggested this, Lack alleges, the faculty advisor Michelle Werre interrupted the discussion of the proposal, and demanded that the topic be dropped without further discussion. She allegedly also dictated that the resolution would not be adopted, without the opportunity for any formal vote.
Them the complaint alleges, at a subsequent meeting when Lack again attempted to discuss the resolution, Werre again expressed her dissatisfaction, and attempted to force a formal vote without any further debate or discussion. Lack then moved to table the resolution, in order to prevent voting without the proper opportunity for debate.
Lack later exchanged private electronic messages with another student, off campus, regarding his frustration on the matter, and his frustration with another matter which the principal had "shot down" his suggestion.
Within a week of his last conversation, Lack was called into a meeting with both of the faculty advisors and was advised that he was removed as student body president immediately. The complaint states that, "Reiser and Werre informed Lack he was being removed for “pushing personal projects” and advocating for “policy changes,” which was a reference to Lack’s advocacy to modify the “Prom King and Queen” tradition to make it more inclusive to gay and lesbian students." It further states that he was being removed for "attacking" the principal, presumably through the private messages, and for other statements they apparently disagreed with.
"The removal of Lack as student body president has caused him great emotional distress, has deprived him of an honor he worked hard to achieve, has threatened his admission to the college of his choice, has deprived him of the right to address the student body at graduation, and has caused additional harm to be proven at trial."
He claims his removal from office had "no legitimate education[al] purpose" and had "a chilling effect upon student expression in general." And further, "[t]he removal of Lack as Student Body President was not authorized by any lawful policy, rule, or regulation of AHS or FCSD."
Lack seeks reinstatement to office, costs, damages for constitutional violations and emotional distress, and punitive damages "due to the intentional and outrageous nature of their actions"
I can personally attest to the fact that politics are alive and well in student body government. If you piss off your faculty advisor, you are almost certain to be removed, or worse, and that's precisely what Reuben Lack is alleging happened to him. It is a sad lesson to learn, because usually there is no recourse.
Schools can regulate Free Speech when it has to do with obscenity or safety, etc. Thus, while in more egregious cases your First Amendment right to Free Speech might be violated such as with overzealous faculty interference, there is no one to tell it to, because no one else wants to upset the balance of administrative politics. Additionally, by the time you get someone to rally for you, what is left to take control of? Lack will likely graduate before this matter is resolved. Furthermore, it is the rare case that the student is actually able to retain an attorney and sue for reinstatement.
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