Following a warning letter from Pacific Legal Foundation, officials at Vero Beach High School and the Indian River County School Board have finally withdrawn all punishment of student J.P. Krause, a rising senior they unlawfully penalized for the “offense” of delivering a tongue-in-cheek speech in his successful candidacy for student body president.
Last week they withdrew their order disqualifying him from serving in the post that he won by a landslide. On Monday they announced hey will also rescind their finding that his harmless, humorous speech somehow violated the school’s anti-harassment policy.
“Finally, school officials have listened to common sense -- and the commands of the Constitution,” said PLF Senior Attorney Mark Miller, who wrote the warning letter on behalf of J.P. Krause and his family. “J.P. did nothing wrong, and he didn’t deserve any kind of punishment for engaging in some light-hearted campaign rhetoric. In fact, as the Supreme Court has clearly stated, students’ ability to speak their minds, including in a tongue-in-cheek way, is protected by the First Amendment. To be sure, an exception exists when the student speech truly threatens the orderly operation, but that was not remotely the case here. This episode should serve as a teaching moment for school officials around the country: The guarantees and protections of the First Amendment do not stop at the schoolyard gate.”
J.P.’s classmates in Advanced Placement U.S. History encouraged him to give an impromptu speech in support of his candidacy. With his teacher’s approval, he delivered some lighthearted remarks in the classroom, presenting an obviously fictional, fanciful, and comedic contrast between himself and his opponent. For instance, he suggested he was the candidate of liberty and he supported building a President Trump-like wall between Vero Beach High School and its archrival high school (and making the other school pay for it); while his opponent favored that rival school, and supported higher taxes to boot.
J.P. went on to win the election, but lost his First Amendment rights. Without any notice, school officials summarily disqualified him and imposed a detention, on the grounds that his speech somehow violated the school’s anti-harassment policy. This punishment also went on his record.
On J.P.’s behalf, PLF wrote to school officials calling on them to withdraw their unjustified punishment and reinstate him as senior class president, because their actions violated the First Amendment.
As J.P. said in his interview with Fox & Friends, he had no intention of harassing anyone with his comedic campaign speech. “I never thought the speech would ever evolve in what it has become, really,” he said. “It was completely … satirical.”
Upon learning school officials had reinstated him as senior class president, rescinded the discipline referral, and removed any reference to the discipline from his records, J.P. thanked PFL and its managing attorney, Mark Miller, and especially PLF’s donors.
“When the school principal told me I was disqualified and told my mother I would have a permanent discipline record, I could not believe it,” he said. “If I had done something wrong, my parents would have made me own up to it and apologize. But I did not think I did anything wrong, and both my parents felt the same way. I hope other public schools will learn from this event and recognize that students have First Amendment rights they must respect.
“I am grateful that Mr. Miller and PLF took up this fight on my behalf and vindicated both my rights and the rights of my classmates,” he continued. “And I am so thankful that donors across our country support PLF in its mission to defend the constitutional rights of all Americans.”
“The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.” That, according to Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976). In other words, it doesn’t matter that the school district reinstated J.P. It still gave him detention and wrongly left the charge on his record that he “harassed” another student. He didn’t. The threat that it will punish him in the future for similar speech was still there, which is why PLF persisted in its defense until the student was ensured he wouldn't be punished for political satire. J.P.’s rights now have been fully restored.
More information, including PLF’s letter to the school, a Courting Liberty podcast, and links to J.P.’s Fox & Friends interview, discussion of his case on The View, and his campaign speech, may be found on the PLF website.
Pacific Legal Foundation litigates in courts nationwide for limited government, property rights, individual liberty, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations. PLF represents all clients free of charge.