Court-Appointed Lawyer Ordered for Junior High Schooler’s First Amendment Lawsuit
From Crozier v. Westside Community School Dist., decided earlier this month by the Eighth Circuit (Judges Steven Colloton, Roger Leland Wollman, and William Duane Benton):
In the fall of 2016, A.C. was a student at Westside Middle School in Omaha, Nebraska. The complaint alleges that a teacher assigned A.C.’s eighth-grade class to watch a video about athletes kneeling during the national anthem. The week before, it is alleged, there were “violent race riots” in North Carolina that “were spurred by the shooting of an unarmed black man by a police officer.” In that context, during a “critical thinking” discussion, the teacher called on A.C. to share her ideas. A.C. demurred, but the teacher insisted that A.C. answer.
A.C. then expressed her view that “kneeling was disrespectful to law enforcement and military, and questioned that this violence could have stemmed from music lyrics that said such things as ‘F-the Police, and the use of the N-word.'” (A.C. employed euphemisms in her comments and did not use profanity or the actual “N-word.”) When the teacher demanded to know where A.C. obtained this information, she answered, “from the media.”
To explain further, A.C. shared an example from the previous school year when she overheard a conversation between two seventh-grade students, one black and one white; the white student asked why he couldn’t say the “N-word” when the black student could. The teacher then interrupted A.C. and directed her to stop speaking. The Croziers allege that if A.C. had been permitted to finish, she would have expressed her view that no one should use the “N-word.”
A.C. stayed home from school the next day due to illness. The teacher allegedly “told several class periods worth of students that A.C. was a racist.” The Croziers allege that the teacher “lied to intentionally defame and label A.C. as a ‘racist who said the N-word.'” They assert that the teacher, in speaking to other students, “made the supposition that A.C. was home that day due to suspension,” even though she knew that A.C. was home sick. The Croziers allege that the teacher admitted branding A.C. a racist: when A.C.’s mother later told the teacher that it was “entirely unfair that [she] labeled A.C. a racist,” the teacher “rolled her eyes and smugly responded, ‘I do not believe that to be unfair.'”
As a result of this alleged retaliation, the Croziers claim, A.C. was taunted by other students who “heard what [she] said,” and A.
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