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Freeland student suspended for fake Instagram account, sues district

(WJRT)
Published: Jan. 2, 2020 at 5:11 PM EST
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(1/2/2020) - A Freeland High School student made a parody social media account of one his teachers and got suspended, but an attorney says that violates his right to free speech.

The student was actually threatened with expulsion.

"This is purely a First Amendment speech and it's about the right of freedom of speech at its core," said attorney Phil Ellison.

In May, a 14-year-old freshman at Freeland High School created a parody Instagram account of one of his teachers.

The student is not being identified, but the first post on the Instagram account depicts a gas pump with a needle on it advising anyone who sees the post to be aware.

"He posted, I think, somewhat to make fun of the nerdy nature of his teacher," Ellison said.

The student shared the username and password for the account with two friends.

"He was making fun of his teacher and he shared it with his friends, and of course the friends picked up and as boys will be boys, one upped the next," Ellison said.

The two other students made a few other posts, one that included the threat of physical harm to another teacher and a cat. Another post made a sexual reference to a different teacher.

The teacher who was being pariodied found out about the account, contacted school administrators and the school began the expulsion process on the 14-year-old who started the fake Instagram account.

"They sought to expel someone for exercising their First Amendment rights," Ellison said.

"My client's friends took it maybe a step to far, but not too far in terms of the First Amendment -- maybe too far in terms of taste," he added.

Police were called and juvenile petitions were authorized on the three teens for unlawful posting of a message and conspiracy. Ellison said charges against his client were dropped, but it's not clear how the other two students were disciplined.

The 14-year-old eventually was suspended for 10 days, but the teen's family has filed the federal lawsuit, in part to clear his academic record.

Ellison said the fake account was created off school property and the students were not using it during class hours.

"Schools, you stay out of the business of parenting, and parents you need to be more involved with things that don't happen at school," Ellison said.

Freeland Community Schools Superintendent Matt Cairy had no comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

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