By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
FULTON – Taylor and Dora Bell’s attorney said Thursday they will appeal a federal judge’s dismissal of their lawsuit against the Itawamba County School Board and others.
The lawsuit came from Taylor’s January 2011 suspension at Itawamba Agricultural High School after he posted on the Internet a rap song deriding the school and two male coaches.
Senior U.S. District Judge Neal B. Biggers Jr. said the school board’s actions were correct and that Bell’s song’s lyrics “in fact caused a material and/or substantial disruption” at school and that it was “reasonably foreseeable” by school officials that it would do so.
Scott Colom of Columbus, the Bells’ attorney, said he disagreed with Biggers’ opinion and will take their issues to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“It’s an unsettled area of the law,” he said. “It’s most troubling that the First Amendment protects corporations’ rights to give unlimited sums of money to campaigns but not a student’s right to do a video off school grounds.”
Itawamba’s counsel, Mike Carr of Cleveland, disagreed, saying Biggers is right and his clients await the appeal.
Taylor and his mother, Dora, of Fulton sued the school board, Teresa McNeece, the district’s superintendent, and Trae Wiygul, IAHS principal, alleging that his seven-day punishment violated his right to free speech and Dora Bell’s 14th Amendment parenting rights to due process.
They also claimed his speech was entitled to great protection because it was about “a matter of public concern.” Taylor claimed the matter was coaches having improper contact with female students.
Two hearings followed Taylor’s suspension and on Feb. 7, 2011, the school board upheld his punishment, saying the song “threatened, harassed and intimidated school employees.”
Biggers’ 12-page ruling noted that while public school students have free-speech rights under the First Amendment, they are not as extensive as those for adults and are “tempered” by the school’s legitimate interest in maintaining order.
The judge said the Bells failed to prove that a his speech qualified for heightened protection.
Dora Bell’s parental rights were not violated, the order stated, because she received notices of the hearings where she and her son had opportunities to give their side and be represented by counsel.