Advanced

Bell v. Itawamba County School Board

From January 2011 to August 2015
Itawamba County Schools (Other)
South Fulton, Mississippi, USA

Identity of Speakers

  • Taylor Bell
    Student
    Other

    Taylor Bell is a high school student who posted rap lyrics to his personal Facebook page.

Resources

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
    Social media
    Other
  • Incident Responses:
    Litigation
    Other
  • Incident Status:
    Dismissed
    Appealed
  • No protest Occured
  • Did not involve Speech Codes

Summary

On January 5, 2011, Taylor Bell, a high school student, posted rap lyrics to his personal Facebook page. The lyrics accused two teachers at his school of misconduct with female students. The lyrics also included statements that could reasonably be construed as threats against the teachers. After being questioned about the lyrics by school officials, Bell posted a finalized version to YouTube. Shortly thereafter, school officials suspended Hall for seven days and required him to attend the alternative school for the remainder of the nine-week grading period. The school board denied his appeal and upheld his suspension. Bell sued the school board, alleging that his suspension based on the lyrics violated his First Amendment rights. The District Court ruled on summary judgment favor of the school board, but a divided panel of the 5th Circuit reversed. Finally, the 5th Circuit ruled en banc that the suspension did not violate Bell’s First Amendment rights. Importantly, the Court found that the Tinker framework applied even though Bell made his statements off campus. They reasoned that Tinker applies when a student intentionally directs speech to the school community that is reasonably understood to threaten, harass, or intimidate a teacher. The Court found that Bell’s speech met this threshold.