Twin brothers, Sean and Steven Wilson, have been suspended by Lee’s Summit North High School for creating a website that caused disruptions at school. The twins were suspended for 180 days by the school. The website was created so the twins can complain about events at the school. The website went somewhat-viral.
The website even had sexist and racist comments posted to it along with sexist remarks about female students who were named. According to reports, the twins created the posts themselves but a third student posted a racist comment to the website. The twins, juniors at the time, were permitted to enroll in Summit Ridge Academy while on their suspension. The school district was sued by the twins, who claim that their freedom of speech was violated by the suspension. They also claim that they would suffer irreparable harm at Summit Ridge because it does not have a band or honors courses.
An original ruling in the case from the district court gave the twins Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. The court ruled that the twins were likely to win on the merits and that the lack of a band and honors courses did constitute irreparable harm. On Wednesday, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court ruling.
When issuing its ruling, the Eighth Circuit used reasoning from Tinker v. Des Moines. In this case, the court ruled that schools are not permitted to censor the free speech of a student unless the student’s speech “materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school.” The case of the twins was defeated by the interference aspect.
In its ruling, the Eighth Circuit said, “Under Tinker, speech which actually caused a substantial disruption to the educational environment is not protected by the First Amendment. Therefore, the Wilsons are unlikely to succeed on the merits.”
The court ruled that the Wilson brothers did not meet the standard required for irreparable harm because concerns over not receiving college band scholarships and having trouble acquiring music careers were speculative. The court said that those concerns were not “certain and great.” The court said that speculative harm does not mean a preliminary injunction will be issued.
The school has yet to determine the fate of the Wilson brothers. Because the Eighth Circuit did not issue a preliminary injunction for the twins, it means that the “unenviable task of fashioning a remedy” was left to the district court, which had its original ruling overturned.
S.J.W. v. Lee’s Summit R-7 School Dist. (Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals)