Perry Craft Wins First Amendment Parent’s Free Speech Case against School Officials

Perry Craft Wins First Amendment Parent’s Free Speech Case against School OfficialsThe First Amendment to the United States Constitution expressly gives citizens and parents fundamental rights: free speech, freedom of religion, freedom the press, freedom to peaceably assemble and to petition government for redress.

Sometimes, however, schools try to silence or limit a parent’s free speech rights. Trouble arises when, typically, a parent voices his or her disagreement with a teacher, principal, coach, or other school official and the school reacts or responds . The school’s reaction often is to limit the parent’s ability to speak or communicate with school personnel simply because a parent’s voice or concern runs against or contrary to the school’s or a coach’s position or view.

Recently, the federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that schools may not silence a parent just because the school official disagrees, criticizes, or objects to the school official’s position. In McElhaney v. Williams, No. 22-5903 (6th Circuit No. 22-5903), a parent texted the coach of a high school sports team regarding his child’s playing time compared to other players. The coach responded and eventually the parent was banned from attending his child’s sporting events for about one week. The lower district court ruled for school officials and the coach, but the higher Court, the Court of Appeals, reversed and ruled for the parent. The First Amendment’s free speech right gives a parent the right to criticize school officials and their policies and decisions.

No government official, whether a school administrator, teacher, or coach, can silence a parent just because the parent objects to a school decision. The First Amendment protects the speech of parents. Every right has limits and a parent’s rights too are limited: The First Amendment does not permit a parent to threaten anyone, disrupt a class or event, shout or speak obscenities, or commit a crime; however, a parent’s speech cannot be shut down simply because school officials or a coach find the speech or communication unsettling, disagreeable, or troubling.

To be sure, a school has more leeway to limit students’ speech but again, parents’ free speech rights are far broader.

Perry Craft regularly represents parents and students in education matters ranging from IEPs, 504 plans, due process hearings, discipline and suspensions, and constitutional claims. He also represents teachers and administrators charged by school districts with misconduct or the State Board of Education in license revocation or suspension hearings.

To schedule a case review, please call The Law Office of Perry A. Craft, PLLC in Nashville, or fill out our contact form.