Victory: Florida school drops assault on student’s free speech rights
June 19, 2017
VERO BEACH, FL; June 19, 2017: Following a warning letter from Pacific Legal Foundation, officials at Vero Beach High School and the Indian River County School Board have finally withdrawn all punishment of student J.P. Krause – a rising senior whom they unlawfully penalized for the “offense” of delivering a tongue-in-cheek speech in his successful candidacy for student body president. Last week, they withdrew their order disqualifying him from serving in the post that he won by a landslide. Today, they announced that they will also rescind their finding that his harmless, humorous speech somehow violated the school’s anti-harassment policy.
“Finally, school officials have listened to common sense – and the commands of the Constitution,” said PLF Senior Attorney Mark Miller, who wrote the warning letter on behalf of J.P. Krause and his family. “J.P. did nothing wrong, and he didn’t deserve any kind of punishment for engaging in some light-hearted campaign rhetoric. In fact, as the Supreme Court has clearly stated, students’ ability to speak their minds, including in a tongue-in-cheek way, is protected by the First Amendment. To be sure, an exception exists when the student speech truly threatens the orderly operation, but that was not remotely the case here. This episode should serve as a teaching moment for school officials around the country: The guarantees and protections of the First Amendment do not stop at the schoolyard gate.”
A rising senior, J.P.’s classmates in Advanced Placement U.S. History encouraged him to give an impromptu speech in support of his candidacy. With his teacher’s approval, he delivered some lighthearted remarks in the classroom presenting an obviously fictional, fanciful, and comedic contrast between himself and his opponent. For instance, he suggested he was the candidate of liberty and he supported building a President Trump-like wall between Vero Beach High School and its archrival high school (and making the other school pay for it); while his opponent favored that rival school, and supported higher taxes to boot.
J.P. went on to win the election, but lost his First Amendment rights. Without any notice, school officials summarily disqualified him and imposed a detention, on the grounds that his speech somehow violated the school’s anti-harassment policy. This punishment also went on his record.
On J.P.’s behalf, PLF wrote to school officials calling on them to withdraw their unjustified punishment and reinstate him as senior class president, because their actions violated the First Amendment.
As J.P. said in an interview with Fox & Friends, he had no intention of harassing anyone with his comedic campaign speech. “I never thought the speech would ever evolve in what it has become, really,” he said. “It was completely … satirical.”
Upon learning that school officials had reinstated him as senior class president, rescinded the discipline referral, and removed any reference to the discipline from his records, J.P. thanked Miller, PLF, and especially PLF’s donors.
“When the school principal told me I was disqualified and told my mother I would have a permanent discipline record, I could not believe it,” he said. “If I had done something wrong, my parents would have made me own up to it and apologize. But I did not think I did anything wrong, and both my parents felt the same way. I hope other public schools will learn from this event and recognize that students have First Amendment rights that they must respect.
“I am grateful that Mr. Miller and PLF took up this fight on my behalf and vindicated both my rights and the rights of my classmates,” he continued. “And I am so thankful that donors across our country support PLF in its mission to defend the constitutional rights of all Americans.”
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Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 14 victories out of 16 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.