A Texas high school cheerleader who was kicked off the squad for refusing to chant the name of an athlete she said had raped her will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate her free-speech suit against the school district, her lawyer says.
The cheerleader and her parents are also challenging federal court rulings that found the suit to be frivolous and ordered them to reimburse the district more than $45,000 in legal costs.
The case has drawn national attention since a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled in September that the cheerleader was speaking for the school, not herself, and had no right to remain silent when called on to shout the athlete's name. Legal commentators said the ruling illustrated courts' increasingly restrictive view of free speech on campus.
The girl, identified by her initials H.S., was 16 when she said she was raped at a party in her southeast Texas hometown of Silsbee in October 2008. She identified the assailant as Rakheem Bolton, a star on the Silsbee High School football team.
Bolton was arrested but not charged at the time, and was allowed to return to school.
At a February 2009 basketball game in Huntsville, Texas, H.S. joined in leading cheers for the Silsbee High team, which included Bolton. But when Bolton went to the foul line to shoot free throws, H.S. stepped back, folded her arms and sat next to the squad's faculty leader.
The girl's lawyer says the cheerleaders were supposed to yell, "Two, four, six, eight, ten, come on, Rakheem, put it in."
At halftime, H.S. said, the district superintendent, his assistant and the school principal told her she had to cheer for Bolton or go home. She refused, her parents drove her home and she was dismissed from the squad.
Bolton pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge in September and received a suspended sentence. H.S., joined by her parents, sued school officials and the district, claiming they had punished her for exercising her right of free expression.
Upholding a federal judge's dismissal of the suit, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared Sept. 16 that a cheerleader serves as a "mouthpiece" for the school. The Silsbee district "had no duty to promote H.S.'s message," the three-judge panel said, and her silence "constituted substantial interference with the work of the school.'
Laurence Watts, the family's lawyer, said this week he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court ruled in 1969 that school officials could restrict student speech only if it disrupted the educational process. The court narrowed that ruling in 1988 when it allowed a high school principal to censor the student newspaper and said schools have no duty to promote student speech.
Watts argued in a legal filing that H.S.'s suit should not have been dismissed because there was no evidence that her refusal to cheer "was substantially interfering with the work of the school."
Good for H.S.! I hope she wins.