Student suspended for tweeting two words will get to sue his school, police chief

Rogers, MN honor student Reid Sagehorn was suspended after he tweeted two words, using his own device, on his own time, off school property.

An anonymous website called "Roger Confessions" poked fun at Rogers High faculty and students. Someone there posted "did @R_Sagehorn3 actually make out with [name of female teacher at Rogers High School]?" and Sagehorn tweeted "Actually, yes" in response.

On this basis, Rogers High principal Roman Pierskalla suspended Sagehorn for five days for "damaging a teacher's reputation," citing a school policy against "threatening, intimidating or assaulting a teacher." He then extended the suspension for five more days, and told Sagehorn's parents he'd done it because they were "questioning his authority" resulting in his "getting angry."

When Sagehorn's parents requested a hearing on the matter, the school's police officer left them a voicemail saying that "he had forwarded police reports from the postings to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office for their review and decision as to whether to charge Sagehorn with any crimes." Board Superintendent Mark Bezek and Asst Superintendent Jana Hennen-Burr told them that any hearing would be a waste of time because "the outcome was pre-ordained" -- and told them that pressing the matter could result in Reid Sagehorn being expelled from school.

Sagehorn, who had a spotless student record, had been provisionally admitted to North Dakota State University, and an expulsion would have cost him this admission.

As the scandal gathered steam, with the Sagehorns bringing a civil suit against the police chief and the school, the petty authority figures of Rogers, MN closed ranks. Rogers' Police Chief Jeffrey Beahen publicly called Sagehorn a "felon."

The school has mounted a bizarre, contradictory defense, claiming that "actually, yes" was "obscene," or at least "lewd and vulgar."

The court would have none of it. The Sagehorns's lawsuit will go ahead. If they prevail, both the school and the police chief could be liable for damages.

Even if the Court were to find that Sagehorn’s post unambiguously referred to sexual intercourse, the content actually attributable to Sagehorn – a response of “actually yes” – is not nearly as graphic as the content courts have found obscene as a matter of law. [...]

The stark contrast between Sagehorn’s speech and speech that would now be considered obscene is particularly evident when this case is compared to other recent obscenity cases. Sagehorn’s post, for example, markedly differs from a student tweet deemed obscene in Rosario v. Clark County School District, 2013, cited by the School Defendants. In Rosario, the court concluded that a tweet, which was sent off-campus after a basketball game, was obscene when it expressed a hope that the basketball coach “gets fucked in tha ass by 10 black dicks.” [...]

“[G]ets fucked” is an unambiguous appeal to prurient interest. Unlike “make out,” there is no ambiguity as to whether the Rosario tweet referred to sexual intercourse.

School, Police Chief Must Face Lawsuit Brought By Student Suspended For 10 Days For Tweeting 'Actually, Yes' [Tim Cushing/Techdirt]