Lambda Legal has filed suit on behalf of a 16-year-old lesbian student in Florida after the school suspended her for participating in the annual Day of Silence last year.
The national Day of Silence is held each year on April 20 in high schools and colleges around the country, and sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. The national campaign and demonstration asks students to pledge to keep silent for a day to raise awareness about the silencing effect of antigay bullying and harassment in schools.
Almost a month prior to the day of demonstration, Amber Hatcher filed a formal request to participate in the Day of Silence, reports Queerty. But DeSoto County High School Principal Shannon Fusco threatened the student with "ramifications" if she participated. Undeterred, Hatcher petitioned the DeSoto County School Superintendent on April 10, 12, and 13, 2012, in each instance providing resources from GLSEN and Lambda Legal explaining the campaign and each student's constitutional right to participate, according to Lambda Legal. The Superintendent refused to meet with Hatcher, and directed the principal to tell Hatcher her request was "disapproved" because students were not allowed to observe the Day of Silence. Lambda Legal claims the superintendent repeatedly told Hatcher she could not participate, and threatened that there "would be consequences" if Hatcher observed the DOS — even calling Hatcher's parents to suggest that they keep their daughter home from school on April 20.
Lambda Legal sent a letter to the school principal and district superintendent highlighting the legal precedent supporting Hatcher's participation — you know, the First Amendment — and notifying the district that interfering with a student's right to free speech might be grounds for a lawsuit. The principal responded by sending an email to every teacher in the school ordering them to send any participating students directly to the principal's office.
Needless to say, on April 20, Hatcher came to school wearing a red shirt with the words "DOS April 20, 2012: Shhhh," refusing to speak, and instead communicating by dry-erase board. Hatcher was called to the dean's office and suspended for the day, according to Lambda.
On February 26, 2013, Lambda filed a federal lawsuit against the DeSoto County Board of Education, arguing that the district violated Hatcher's (and other students') First Amendment rights, and trampling all over established legal precedent that has determined students have a right to freedom of expression in the form of speech (or, consequently, a lack of speech), clothing, and association. Lambda also asked the court for an order to ensure that school officials do not try to silence students who want to participate in this year's campaign, which is scheduled for April 19. (April 20, 2013, is a Saturday).