A high school student was suspended and transferred to an alternative school for posting his rap song on the Internet. The song criticized two male coaches for allegedly harassing female students at the school. The song used vulgar, violent, and explicit lyrics when describing their conduct. The student composed the song off campus, recorded it at a professional studio unaffiliated with the school, and posted it on Facebook and YouTube using his personal computer at home. The student had no previous history of serious school disciplinary violations.

The student filed a lawsuit to challenge the discipline imposed on him, alleging that the district had violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech by punishing him for off-campus speech.

The district court initially dismissed the lawsuit, but the student appealed and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Texas, reversed the judgment and found that the student’s right to free speech had been violated. A school district may only discipline a student for off-campus speech when the speech causes substantial disruption on the campus or when school administration reasonably believes that substantial disruption will occur.  In this case, the court found that there was no commotion, boisterous conduct, interruption of classes or any lack of order, discipline, and decorum at the school as a result of the song being posted on the Internet. The song was composed, recorded, and posted to the Internet entirely off campus. School computers blocked Facebook and school policy prohibited the possession of phones by students, which would reduce the likelihood that a student could access the song on campus. Additionally, although the lyrics in the song were vulgar and violent, they were rhetorical in nature and did not contain a genuine threat to the coaches named in the song.

The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the student and ordered the district to expunge his disciplinary records and pay him nominal monetary damages.