Conroy and H.S. v. Lacey Twp. School District, Civil Action No. 3:19-cv-09452
In 2019, Pashman Stein Walder Hayden partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey to file a First Amendment lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, against the Lacey Township School District. We represent two former students of Lacey Township High School who were suspended after they posted photographs of firearms on Snapchat. The photographs were taken on the weekend at a private shooting range far away from the school campus and posted “privately” on Snapchat, meaning that only “friends” connected to the students’ accounts could see the pictures. The pictures did not mention the school or state anything threatening; one of the posts had no caption at all and the other had tongue-in-cheek text: “hot stuff” and “If there’s ever a zombie apocalypse, you know where to go.” Because Snapchat posts auto-delete within 24 hours, the photographs had disappeared long before school started on Monday. Although one person complained about the posts, there is no indication that any other students saw or were bothered by the posts. Nonetheless, the school immediately suspended both students for three days.
The complaint alleges that the school lacks authority to impose discipline for off-campus speech; and, even if it had that authority, it cannot punish students for off-campus behavior of any sort unless it materially and substantially interferes with the operation of the school. Because the speech in this case occurred off campus and did not constitute any disruption, the school should not have disciplined the students.
The case is currently ongoing.