Kansas high school student Wesley Teague is the president of Heights High’s senior class and a varsity track athlete. He was also suspended for the rest of the school year and banned from most graduation activities, including a speaking opportunity at a senior breakfast and convocation ceremony Friday, for tweets joking about his high school’s sports program.
On Thursday, Teague tweeted “‘Heights U’ is equivalent to WSU’s football team.” “Heights U” refers to a term some in the school community use to express pride in their sports teams. “WSU” refers to Wichita State University, which has not had a football team since the 1980s. He followed up this tweet with quips about Heights sports teams’ trouble winning games, and with comments about how he feels comfortable making these comments because he is about to graduate.
In a letter to Teague and his parents explaining the decision to suspend the senior class president, the school claimed Teague “acted to incite a disturbance” and that he “posted some very inappropriate tweets about the Heights athletic teams, aggressively disrespecting many athletes […] After reading the tweets and taking statements from other students it was found that Wesley acted to incite the majority of our Heights athletes.” A school spokesperson later claimed that “there was a negative reaction from many students, including threats of fights in the school.”
In a conversation with ThinkProgress, Teague flatly denied that his comments were intended to be disruptive and said both his peers and the administration over-reacted to his routine use of social media:
“The school labeled it as cyberbullying, saying I tried to incite the students and I caused a disruption, but at the same time what the students were saying back to me about the comment was actually the cyberbullying […] I was just like, “Wow, it’s my opinion, and freedom of speech,” but I’m not mad at the kids who were talking trash on me, I’m upset that my school and our school district won’t let me participate in my senior activities that I’ve waited four years to take part in.”
As a matter of First Amendment law, a school may target student speech if school officials “reasonably conclude that it will ‘materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school.’” Even if Teague’s tweets actually did result in sufficient disruptiveness to permit the school to take action, however, it hardly follows that suspending Teague was the appropriate response.
For his part, Teague is trying to find peace with the school’s actions. “I’m trying to let it go,” he told ThinkProgress. “If the school wants to suspend me because of my opinion, I honestly don’t want to go there anymore.”