The principal of Cordova High School in Memphis, Tennessee, is suing his school district and its superintendent for suspending him after he taught students about big tech censorship in the wake of the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill.
Principal Barton Thorne delivers a weekly “principal’s message” to students, which, according to the lawsuit, are meant to “inspire, educate, inform, and challenge his high school students.”
“After the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, our country experienced a teachable moment around the importance of Free Speech and the dangers of cancel culture and deplatforming as social media moderators reacted to the content of various accounts,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit goes on to note that several social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Amazon had blacklisted individual accounts — including the President of the United States — as well as an entire social media platform, Parler.
“Principal Thorne used this teachable moment to talk to his students about the importance of Free Speech in a democratic society, in line with Tennessee’s standards for teaching social studies to high school students and in line with generally accepted civics curriculum, including resources recommended by Defendant Dr. Ray for teaching about January 6 and its aftermath,” states the lawsuit.
“For sharing this message with his students, Principal Thorne was subjected to a professional misconduct complaint and internal disciplinary investigation,” the lawsuit adds. “SCS [Shelby County Schools] placed him on administrative leave, where he has languished for six weeks without any closure to his case.”
“During that time, SCS officials lambasted his message in the news media while telling him to stay silent,” the suit continues. “SCS’s actions violate Principal Thorne’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by subjecting him to viewpoint discrimination. They further constitute a breach of Principal Thorne’s employment contract.”
In a virtual classroom, Thorne talked to students about the threat of big tech censorship, stating, “I’m not going to tell you what to think, I just want to help you think,” according to a report by Reclaim The Net.
Shortly after that, the principal was put on administrative leave by the SCS pending a “professional misconduct” investigation.
The report added that on January 25, Thorne’s lawyers sent the SCS a warning letter demanding his immediate reinstatement, and to “publicly apologize for suggesting his actions were inappropriate.”
In the letter, Thorne’s lawyers argue that the principal merely followed superintendent Joris Ray’s instructions to use the Capitol Hill riot as a “teachable moment” for students.
Thorne ended up filing a federal lawsuit at the Western District of Tennessee District Court against the Shelby County Board of Education and Superintendent Joris Ray, after the school district’s inaction.
The lawyers argue that based on the employee handbook, Thorne did not tell his students anything that was “irresponsible or untruthful … obscene, profane, or discourteous … harassing, discriminatory, or intimidating towards students or staff in his building … dangerous or disruptive.”
The principal also did not violate any ethics code for teachers or anything that “constituted incompetence or improper conduct.” Moreover, the lawyers argue that his swift placement on administrative leave was in violation of the school district’s procedures.